Frequently Asked Questions

Have a question about cage-free egg production or egg safety?  See frequently asked questions below.

Hen Housing

UEP Cage-free requires hens be provided with shelter and have water and fresh feed available at all times. Shelter is important to ensure the hens are protected from predators and safe during inclement weather. Additionally, the housing ensuring hens have a comfortable place to rest at night.

Hen in cage-free systems have more room than hens in conventional cages. This helps accommodate the enrichments they are provided, such as perches, areas to dust bath, and nests.

Hens may be housed in a number of different environments. Regardless of housing, ensuring the health and well-being of all hens is a top priority for U.S. egg farmers, and the nutrient content of eggs remains the same. Some hen housing examples include:

  • Conventional cage housing has been the preferred method for egg production since the 1960s both for its improvements to hen welfare and egg safety.
  • In cage-free aviary systems, hens are housed indoors, but are able to move about the barn within defined sections.
  • Enriched colony housing gives hens twice the space as conventional cages and allows them to exhibit more natural behaviors.

Cage-free eggs are laid by hens that are able to roam vertically and horizontally in indoor barns and have access to fresh food and water. Cage-free systems vary from farm-to-farm, and can include multi-tier aviaries. They must allow hens to exhibit natural behaviors and include enrichments such as scratch areas, perches and nests. Hens must have access to litter, protection from predators and be able to move through a barn in a manner that promotes bird welfare.

There are no nutritional or food safety differences between eggs produced in cage-free or conventional houses. The labels refer to the housing environment where the hens live and produce eggs. When managed properly, all production environments (conventional, enriched cage, cage-free and organic/free range) provide safe, nutritious, quality eggs.  This article from the Egg Nutrition Center provides the results of a recent study by the USDA on the nutrition content of eggs from hens raised under five different housing systems.

Hen Welfare

Egg farmers are committed to producing safe, high-quality eggs and keeping their hens healthy and free from disease. Egg farms may use a limited number of FDA-approved antibiotics, provided they comply with FDA guidelines for usage. These FDA regulations also are designed to assure antibiotic residues are not passed to eggs.

Due to the effective use of vaccines and on-farm disease prevention, only a small percentage of egg-laying flocks ever receive antibiotics. If they do, it is usually under supervision of a veterinarian and only for a short time to treat a specific disease or to prevent a recurring disease.

It’s important to know eggs can only be labeled as antibiotic-free if egg farmers choose not to use any antibiotics in feed or water as the pullets (young hens) are growing or when hens are laying eggs. Certified organic eggs must be antibiotic-free by regulation.

No, growth or production hormones are never fed to pullets (younger hens) being grown to be egg-laying hens nor during the egg-laying period. Hens are fed high-quality, nutritionally balanced diet made up of mostly corn, soybean meal, vitamins and minerals. The feed is carefully formulated with the proper nutrients to produce quality eggs.

It takes about 25 hours from ovulation until a hen lays an egg. The hen then begins forming another egg 30 minutes after it lays an egg.

Beak trimming is performed when a pullet is 10 days old or less using a specialized instrument designed to simultaneously cut and cauterize the beak. Beak treatment is performed at the hatchery on the day pullets hatch.  Infrared technology is used to blunt the pullets beaks. In both instances, only a few millimeters of the beak is trimmed.

UEP recommends beak trimming/treatment only when necessary to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism. When necessary for hen well-being, it must be carried out by trained personnel using procedures approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and monitored regularly for quality control.

Learn more by viewing this video on beak treatment from the Coalition for Sustainable Animal Agriculture.

Advantages of beak trimming/treatment may include reduced feather pecking, reduced feather pulling, reduced cannibalism, better feather condition, less fearfulness, less nervousness, less chronic stress, and decreased mortality. For more information on the UEP Certified guidelines for beak trimming/treatment, visit UEP Certified Cage-Free Guidelines.

Egg Quality and Safety

Egg farms follow strict guidelines to produce safe, healthy eggs. Hens are provided veterinary care, a balanced diet and constant access to fresh water, so they stay healthy and produce quality eggs. Rigorous biosecurity and cleaning procedures are implemented on farms to help prevent disease, and eggs are gathered promptly to provide a cleaner, safer egg. In the processing room on the farm, eggs are sanitized through washing with 110-115°F water and spray jets, brushes, warm detergent solution remove contaminants. Through the process, eggs are handled by machines instead of human hands to decrease potential damage and exposure to contaminants. Eggs are required to be refrigerated within 36 hours of lay, and they stay refrigerated through transportation to stores and restaurants. For more information on farm safety measures visit the Egg Safety Center.

The USDA grade shield on the carton means that the eggs were graded for quality and checked for weight (size) under the supervision of a trained USDA grader. Compliance with quality standards, grades, and weights is monitored by USDA. State agencies monitor compliance for egg packers who do not use the USDA grading service. These cartons normally will bear a term such as “Grade A” on their cartons without the USDA shield.

Eggs are taken to the egg processing room within hours after being laid. In the processing room they are visually inspected and graded for packaging. To view all the steps from the farm to the table that keep eggs safe, visit Hen to Home.

The Egg Safety Center provides information on egg storage and handling, appearance of eggs relative to egg safety, tips on safe preparation and cooking of eggs, and more.

UEP Certified Guidelines

UEP Certified Cage-Free Guidelines were created in 2006 to help assure excellent care of all hens in cage-free housing.  The guidelines were developed by an independent Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC); a group of independent scientists, researchers, and veterinarians committed to animal welfare. Working with UEP’s Animal Welfare Committee, the Scientific Advisory Committee provides an ongoing review of new research and modern egg farm standards for continuous improvement of the UEP Certified Cage-Free program.

UEP continues to convene this committee to evaluate hen well-being standards, review existing research, conduct new research, and recommend best practices.

Look for the UEP Certified Cage-Free logo on the carton. The logo signifies the eggs contained in it have been produced to the UEP Certified Cage-Free standards.

For a refund or exchange, contact the retailer where the eggs were purchased. The UEP Certified Cage-Free logo appears on a number of egg brands, as egg farms across the U.S. voluntarily participate.

No, the UEP Certified Cage-Free logo signifies that the eggs originate from farms that raise hens adhering to the animal welfare standards of the UEP Certified Cage-Free Program. These science-based standards ensure hen care and well-being and were developed by an independent, unpaid Scientific Advisory Committee working with the UEP’s producer lead Animal Welfare Committee. View UEP Certified Cage-Free Guidelines.

UEP Certified guidelines are comprehensive cage-free hen welfare guidelines that include the following:

  • Nutritious feed (with no added hormones), clean water and fresh air are available at all times.
  • Space for nests, perches and scratch areas.
  • Strict biosecurity measures protect food safety and hen health.
  • All employees are trained to treat birds with care at all times, and all sign a code of conduct for proper animal handling.
  • Annual compliance evaluation is conducted by independent third-party auditors.

The UEP Certified Cage-Free logo identifies eggs in the marketplace as having been produced by UEP Certified Cage-Free farms. The logo signifies that the hens that laid the eggs were raised under science-based animal well-being guidelines, and compliance is audited annually by third-party inspectors. The UEP Certified Cage-Free logo appears on a number of egg brands, as egg farms across the U.S. voluntarily participate in this program.