Caged layer chickens

Controversy has broken out over the findings of a trial into non-beak trimmed cage birds, months ahead of the results being officially submitted to the Scottish government.

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) trials into the management of non-beak trimmed caged birds on a large Scottish commercial farm suffered breakdowns as a result of severe pecking in two cages of 80 birds. But researchers say this data will be discounted when the final results are presented to the Scottish government later this year.

SRUC PhD student Krysta Morrissey told a feather pecking workshop in Perth that the two cages had to be euthanised under Home Office guidelines.

See also: Infra-red beak trimming for layers in action

“Another option would have been to beak trim all the affected birds, but we thought that would be too stressful and could potentially lead to more mortality due to vent pecking and cannibalism. So we decided to remove the cages from the study completely and humanely euthanise the remaining birds,” she explained

But Aberdeenshire egg producer Robert Chapman publicly challenged any decision to exclude the breakdown cages from the data.

“I think you’re wrong to discount this information. In a commercial environment you can’t ignore a situation like that,” he said. “We all know what would have happened if the trial had gone on – there would have been one bird left alive in each cage. And if you put the birds from these breakdown cages into a free-range shed, the problem would be twenty times worse. Cages are easier to control. I can’t agree with your decision.”

Ms Morrissey said later: “I can understand farmers point of view. Removing the birds from the data alters the results in comparison to letting the birds play it out and see what happened naturally. But in no way am I trying to hide that information. I’m being up front and saying what happened.”

SRUC is running two studies to assess the effects of breed, beak treatment and enrichment on mortality, behaviour and feather condition in caged birds.

The first study has found that mortality differed according to breeds, and feather condition was better when the birds had been beak trimmed rather than left entire. The second study showed that “environmental enrichments” such as toys reduced feather damage compared to birds housed in a standard colony cage.