Dennis Bowden has raised chickens in the town of Waldoboro, Maine, nearly his whole life. For more than 40 years, he raised his chickens in cages. Then four years ago, when he turned 65, he cut down his flock and went cage-free.
The decision to switch was Bowden’s alone, but around the country many politicians have firmly taken sides on the issue of penning hens, hoping either to require egg producers to go cage-free or to protect conventional producers by mandating that stores stock their eggs.
Eggs are a staple of the American diet, with 88 billion table eggs produced in 2016. Egg consumption is growing, and the quality of life of the hens that lay the eggs has become an issue not just for animal welfare groups but also for many consumers. Although cage-free hens represent 16 percent of U.S. chickens, their share of the flock grew by a third from 2016 to 2017, and the egg industry and its supporters are paying close attention.