At the top of the pecking order

04-05-2016 | |
Fabian Brockotter
Fabian Brockotter

To prevent animal welfare issues from arising in intensive livestock farming, humanity has taken drastic measures in the past. But can a chicken with an untreated beak be part of a commerical flock? World Poultry takes a look.

When engaged in poultry production, we removed the spurs and back toes of roosters, cut combs and cut off part of the beaks. Some procedures are no longer performed, others have been replaced by milder techniques such as infrared beak treatment. But even these milder techniques will disappear sooner or later.

Also interesting: UK minister rejects beak trimming ban

UK farming minister George Eustice has said that a ban on beak trimming will not be introduced in the UK from January 2016. The minister made the announcement in response to a written question in the House of Commons.

Some say a layer with an untreated beak cannot be held in commercial situations, or that it at least leads to severe pecking damage or even cannibalism. They are partly right. There are risks involved. That said, it doesn’t mean that it is impossible.

Also interesting: German egg farmers to get premium for intact beaks

Almost 600,000 laying hens in Lower Saxony, Germany, have been included in applications for a new initiative to improve bird welfare, which also includes measures to end beak-trimming.

World Poultry visited a French trial project at a commercial farm and saw first-hand that it is possible when the utmost is done to prevent pecking behaviour. 
Many wonder why this particular French farmer went out on the proverbial limb, especially when there is no market nor legislative pressure for him to keep birds with untreated beaks. Well, it’s all about entrepreneurship and predicting and preparing for the future. Managing a flock with untreated beaks takes experience, which doesn’t come by sitting still. 
It will be farmers like the one in France, who is way out in front of the pack, that will be at the top of the pecking order when a ban on beak treatment is finally enforced by governments or is demanded by the market.

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Fabian Brockotter Editor in Chief, Poultry World