Producers attending the Lincoln meeting of a series of DEFRA-funded seminars organised by ADAS have called for government aid to help the sector phase out conventional cages and a change in the rules to allow eggs to be labelled as enriched colony.
The series of 14 seminars across the UK looked at the options open to cage producers in getting ready for the 2012 ban, including the costs and practicalities of adopting enriched colony and multi-tier systems.
Speaking to attendees, East Yorkshire egg producer Chris Kirkwood described the bird welfare benefits as “huge” with more room for birds to move in 60-bird colonies and “excellent” feather cover. Production plus points included a 4% increase in egg numbers, but slight reduction in size and a feed consumption similar to conventional cages.
“We now want to push the colony egg and to make sure that it is differentiated from the conventional cage egg in the marketing rules,” said Mr Kirkwood.
Wesley Thorne of Lincolnshire Chicken told Poultry World that he had had 60,000 layers in Big Dutchman colony cages for more than four years and was delighted with the results.
“We have no reservations. Mortality at 4% is lower than our cage flocks and the hens retain their feathers better, although that can depend on the strain. How much we expand the flock will depend on our packer Noble Foods,” he said adding that the company had 230,000 birds in conventional cages varying in age from 12 to 30 years and 200,000 birds on free range.
Ian Plant of Plant Eggs, who was at the meeting with his father Robert had no doubt that there could be a viable life beyond 2012 for the 45 year old family business, but at £20 a bird, the estimated bill to colonise his current flock of 70,000 layers would be about £1.5m, with no help from government.
“It’s a welfare-led move so there should be significant grants or tax concessions,” he told Poultry World. “It’s a lot of money that maybe could be invested elsewhere. I need to talk to more people before making any decision. We have built up a solid customer base in the Stamford/Peterborough area over the years and we would not want to give it up.”
A third producer voice queried the need for enriched colonies to be identified on the box from 2012.
His own plans for 2012 did not include his current 80,000-bird flock and the survival of his 54,000 barn egg operation depended on a feed clause in his contract with the packer.
The UK egg industry estimates that by 2012, colonies will have 40% of the UK market.