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This question has troubled me for a while. I have looked at all the online dictionaries/forums/other resources for an explanation, in vein.

I have encountered several articles on animal rights describing battery cages as "barren".

For example, on Wikipedia's battery cage page,

Battery cages are the predominant form of housing for laying hens worldwide. They reduce aggression and cannibalism among hens, but are barren, restrict movement, prevent many natural behaviors, and increase rates of osteoporosis.

"It is clear that because of its small size and its barrenness, the battery cage as used at present has inherent severe disadvantages for the welfare of hens".

A recent review of welfare in battery cages made the point that such welfare issues are problems of management, unlike the issues of behavioral deprivation, which are inherent in a system that keeps hens in such cramped and barren conditions.

Another article is titled "Barren, Cramped Battery Cages"

This really confuses me. It can't mean infertile, fruitless, and unable to bear children, as in "barren land" and "barren person", because it would be pointless to have laying hens in such cages.

None of the online dictionaries I have consulted lists any definition that seems relevant in this context.

For example, here is Merriam Webster's entry.

I did find only one site that has a rare definition of this word, "lifeless". But battery cages can't be lifeless either. However, a whole bunch of animal rights writers have used this word to describe cage conditions.

  • As the two answers contributed so far indicate, you can take "barren" here to mean that the cage is bare bones, with no extras, just walls, floor and ceiling. But on an emotional level, perhaps it does also connect up with the infertile meaning. You're right, a hen wouldn't much want to bring babies into such a world. The hen has a physiological need to sit on a nest to lay her eggs, turn her eggs, and safely keep her chicks. Thus, maybe a barren nest is more painfully unfurnished than just a bare bones nest. – aparente001 Aug 23 '17 at 1:15
  • Think of a barren desert. – Hot Licks Aug 23 '17 at 1:50
  • It should be "bear children". But you should be able to get a closer definition based on barren land. – Chris H Aug 23 '17 at 7:01
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I believe "barren battery cage" is as opposed to "enriched cages" (also called "furnished or modified cages").

An enriched cage has a place for a nest, perches, dust baths, and places for the chicken to drink (to increase quality of life).

On the other hand, a barren battery cage has none of the above and it is only a cage (decreased quality of life).

Barren in this instance means lack of enrichment of the cage or lack of modifications to improve the physical condition of the chicken and egg quality.

"Barren" also means "bleak" which means "cold and miserable", which relates to the lack of modifications to its housing (cage), and therefore a decreased or very low quality of life.

https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3818829/alternatives-to-the-barren-battery-cage-in-the-eu.pdf

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Definition 3 in the Merriam Webster link you gave is the closest.

The Collins English Dictionary gives, as one option:

Lacking in stimulation or ideas; dull.

This fits the context better. Essentially, there is nothing in a battery cage to keep a chicken occupied.

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Barren cages are lifeless, even with the laying hen in one, with no more enrichment than her own, sole presence, and no derivable interest in her surrounding barren cage, the small mind of the hen even questions what kind of life she leads with no nour·ish·ment for the soul, no items of food, corners to turn, mysteries to solve, stories to tell -- in those circumstanceslife would be barren of enrichment or the joy of life.

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