Oaklands Farm Eggs has invested £20m in rehousing its laying hens in a colony-cage system, ahead of the EU's 2012 deadline for banning conventional cages.

Under the new system, 80 birds will be housed in a caged area of approximately 4.2m x 1.2m. The birds would have freedom to perch high or low, as well as access to a scratching area and nest boxes, the company said. The new system went beyond the EU's 2012 legislative requirements, exceeding the minimum number of nest boxes and perches required, it claimed.

The first phase of the changeover was completed this month, and 1.6 million birds will be rehoused by the end of next year.

Compassion in World Farming is calling for an end to all cages, including colony systems. "The fundamental objection is that a cage is still a cage," said welfare development manager Phil Brooke.