Fortune magazine published an article describing “How the Humane Society convinced nearly 100 food companies to take their animals out of cages.”  This is why that is not necessarily a good thing for the animals or the people who care for them.

In many cases, prohibiting individual and cage housing actually creates a more hazardous environment for certain species, including chickens and swine.  Both chickens and swine are known to attack flock or herd members.  This is one of the reasons individual or cage housing was first developed-to protect individuals from aggressive flock or herd mates.  Chickens are known to peck each other, even if provided with spacious housing.  Beak trimming was first introduced to prevent or minimize damage from other birds in the flock.  Requiring chickens to be raised without cages, exposes them to aggression from their flock mates.

Sows are also known to attack each other when housed together.  Gestation stalls, originally developed to provide for the individual care of each animal, have been redesigned to permit the sow access to both individual and group housing.  The sow can enter her individual stall when she wants to be separated from aggressive animals, or she can exit the stall and roam around the group housing area whenever she wants.  Prohibiting gestation stalls eliminates a sow’s ability to seek isolation from aggressive herd mates.

Housing livestock and poultry indoors also protects them from predators, the elements, parasites and transmissible diseases, and protects the environment from excessive contamination with manure.  Swine, in particular, can ravage the land.

According to the USDA:

Free-ranging populations of feral swine (also called feral hogs and wild pigs) in the United States are located in at least 35 States. Some experts estimate their numbers at over 5 million, with the largest populations located in California, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas. This species causes extensive damage and disease threats to public property, native ecosystems, livestock health, and human health.

In addition to causing more than $1.5 billion in damages, feral swine

have been known to carry or transmit over 30 diseases and 37 parasites that can be transmitted to livestock, people, pets, and wildlife.

Housing animals indoors not only protects the animals, it also protects the people who provide for their care, and the environment we are all striving to preserve for the future.

Swine and birds, when housed indoors, are protected from contagious, infectious disease such as the avian and swine influenza viruses.  Swine are known for their ability to serve as mixing vessels of viruses from multiple species which can result in the creation of viruses that are devastating to humans. As described in “The pig as a mixing vessel for influenza viruses: Human and veterinary implications” by authors Wenjun Ma, Robert E. Kahn, and Juergen A. Richt:

Influenza A viruses are highly infectious respiratory pathogens that can infect many species. Birds are the reservoir for all known influenza A subtypes; and novel influenza viruses can emerge from birds and infect mammalian species including humans. Because swine are susceptible to infection with both avian and human influenza viruses, novel reassortant influenza viruses can be generated in this mammalian species by reassortment of influenza viral segments leading to the “mixing vessel” theory. There is no direct evidence that the reassortment events culminating in the 1918, 1957 or 1968 pandemic influenza viruses originated from pigs. Genetic reassortment among avian, human and/or swine influenza virus gene segments has occurred in pigs and some novel reassortant swine viruses have been transmitted to humans. Notably, novel reassortant H2N3 influenza viruses isolated from the US pigs, most likely infected with avian influenza viruses through surface water collected in ponds for cleaning barns and watering animals, had a similar genetic make-up to early isolates (1957) of the H2N2 human pandemic.

Cage-housing, like any other issue involving animals, is not as simple as might be assumed at first glance.  The requirement to raise animals in cage-free environments is not always the best solution for animals or people.