EU poultry producers must decide on conventional cage alternative
EU poultry producers using conventional cages for laying hens have only a few months left to decide whether to invest in new enriched colony or free-range equipment, or prepare to quit the sector ahead of next year's ban.
The ban on conventional cages comes into effect on 1 January 2012 and according to poultry specialist Justin Emery of ADAS, the clock is ticking. A refit of existing laying hen accommodation is likely to take around six months, therefore producers only have until mid-summer to make their final decisions.
"It has been a very frustrating time for producers," Emery told a recent meeting at Harper Adams University College, Shropshire, UK. "EU confirmation of what the new regulation would entail was released relatively late (2008), and there is still concern over how it will be interpreted by inspectors on-farm."
The new EU Directive for laying hens demands a minimum space allowance of 750sq cm a bird, of which 600sq cm must be 'usable'. Unusable areas, which are deducted from the overall colony accommodation footprint, include nest boxes and elevated areas used for scratch baths. Areas with a head height of under 20cm are also invalid, according to the guidelines.
"The concern for producers is budgeting how many birds can be accommodated within a colony system depending on how the rules are interpreted," explained Emery.
"Research in 2009 suggested typical costs were £15-25 a hen to install colony equipment, depending on design and quality, compared with £22 a hen for a free-range system with a population of 9 hens a square metre or £18-£22 a hen with a population of 15 hens a square metre.
The level of investment is considerable, especially as many producer' margins are currently being squeezed by high feed prices.”
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