The RSPCA has published new standards for its Freedom Food scheme, which includes a new requirement for natural light and accredited catching teams for end-of-lay hens.

The key areas of development include a minimum of 1.75cm (0.7in) perch length per bird to be provided by at least 10 days of age for pullets. Freedom Food points to evidence that early access to perches can offer many benefits, including improvements in bone and muscle strength.

RSPCA Freedom Food reminds rearers that pullets destined for multi-tier systems must be reared in multi to help birds become accustomed to moving between levels.

New rules will also require Freedom Food accredited catching teams for catching end-of-lay hens before transport from March 2009 as well as a maximum internal distance of 20m from a pophole to the range for all buildings. There will also be a minimum 100 lux illumination over at least 75% of the floor area with no area lit at less than 20 lux.

On the broiler side, chickens reared in all systems must be provided with natural light, as the RSPCA believes it will benefit bird welfare by increasing activity and enriching the bird’s environment.

Lastly, for processors the time allowed for shackling a bird is being reduced from 1min to 30sec by 1 January 2010.

RSPCA welfare standards

  • Perch length
  • Multi-tier systems for pullets
  • Catching end-of-lay hens
  • Access to range
  • Natural lighting
  • Shackle time