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Ten farmers forced to cull thousands of battery hens

TEN farmers across the country will be forced to cull hundreds of thousands of hens next week to comply with an EU directive which the IFA claims could cost them their livelihoods.

Ireland is among 14 EU member states which have not fully complied with a directive issued back in 1999 to phase out so-called battery cages to house hens and replace them with a more humane version known as "enriched" cages.

As of January 1, the use of the small-wire battery cages will be illegal.

Instead, egg producers must use the larger, modified cages equipped with perches and litter that allows hens enough room to roost, nest and scratch.

But 10 hold-out farmers here, who did not switch over to the new cages by the January 1 deadline, will now have no choice but to cull their flocks next week or risk prosecution by the European Court.

However, the directive -- aimed at providing laying hens with a more natural and humane environment -- could well cost them their farms and their livelihoods, said Alo Mohan, chairman of the IFA poultry committee.

While all farmers welcomed higher welfare standards for their animals, he said, the farmers that had not switched over to the new cages tended to be small independent farmers who simply couldn't afford the switch.

It will cost some farmers more than €1m to buy and install the new larger cages.

The cages are required to be at least 750 sq cm per hen compared with the banned cages that had to be no less than 550 sq cm per hen.

The Department of Agriculture did provide grant aid of about €30 per bird -- but Mr Mohan said that for some farmers it still wasn't enough.

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"Farmers have borrowed to the shirt of their back and taken out mortgages on their farms to get these new cages," he said.

But an EU spokeswoman said the farmers had no choice but to comply because Ireland had agreed to the directive.

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