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Questions put to RSPCA over perching row

Free-range egg farmers have said that hens’ right to freedom from pain will be undermined if the RSPCA presses ahead with plans to require farmers to install extensive perching provision on poultry units.

The British Free Range Egg Producers Association says there is uproar amongst its members about a new requirement to retrospectively fit 8cm/bird of perching space on flat deck systems.

Farmers have decried the cost, at a time many are considering expensive veranda installations; health and safety of workers walking birds and the welfare of hens, in particular keel bone health.

But the RSPCA insists that perch provision can reduce stress, fear and reduce the risk of pecking.

Despite widespread opposition, the charity has said it will press ahead with the new rule, requiring farms to have perching installed for flocks placed after August 2018.

North West producer Ben Wharfe is concerned about his ability to safely walk birds, if the level of perching the RSPCA required is installed on his farm. Photo: John Eveson
North West producer Ben Wharfe is concerned about his ability to safely walk birds, if the level of perching the RSPCA required is installed on his farm. Photo: John Eveson

Poultry World visited free-range producer Ben Wharfe, who farms 11,500 birds in a flat-deck system near Warrington. He said that he could not envision how perches would fit in his farm and worried about ease of management if forced to install them.

We put 4 key concerns to RSPCA’s senior scientific officer Mia Ferneyhough.

1. A primary worry was that the route stockmen take to walk along the flat deck area between water lines in a conventional set up would be blocked. Mr Wharfe said he had concerns over health and safety and the ability to effectively collect floor eggs and dead birds.

In response, Ms Ferneyhough (MF) said there were different ways in which the provision could be offered. “Producers who chose to install A frame perches at the minimum requirement of 8cm may not need to position these at the full length of the shed, leaving “cross-over” gaps to allow ease of management.

2. While farms in Northern Ireland and Scotland provide 15cm/bird of perching, they can effectively stack perches one on top of the other, is it correct this is not permitted under the new standard?

MF: “Perches sited directly above one another are not permitted as part of new perch inclusion. Research has demonstrated that perches placed directly above one another in a vertical plane increase the risk of birds injuring themselves and can be difficult for birds to access and alight.”

3. The current guidance doesn’t appear to provide an applicable example of perch space for a conventional farm.

MF: “The RSPCA will be producing guidance on meeting the perch standards which will be available online and via RSPCA and RSPCA Assured field staff.”

4. Many feel that consultation has been poor on this new requirement, and can’t see the benefit given the cost and additional management challenges that perches appear to present.

MF: “We followed a comprehensive six-month consultation period with leaders of the laying hen industry – including BFREPA, the British Egg Industry Council and the NFU – and some RSPCA Assured members

  • We are confident that providing properly designed raised perches in the right positions in the hen house will help to deliver significant improvements to hen welfare.
  • Hens have a strong, natural instinct to perch and the new standards for raised perches have been introduced to help better satisfy their needs.
  • The provision of raised perches can reduce stress, fear and birds pecking each other as well as improve body condition. Some producers have also reported improved egg quality.”

Ms Ferneyhough added: “Anyone wishing to discuss implementation of the perch standards in further detail should contact the RSPCA Farm Animals Department.”

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