The new welfare directive may have been delayed by the UK General Election until the autumn, but broiler growers should get ready now for compliance with the new legislation.
Early preparation is particularly relevant to the new rules on lighting, which set a minimum intensity of 20 lux to apply over 80% of the usable area in each house, ADAS consultant Justin Emery (pictured) told a recent workshop in York.
“I recommend using a light meter at the earliest opportunity, with readings taken at birds’ eye level,” he said. “There will be a number of units where changes need to be made, especially with systems relying on natural lighting.”
The York workshop was one of a series staged by ADAS around the country. Mr Emery explained that the new regulations would include a two-tier approach to stocking densities, more formalised welfare standards and the closer monitoring of birds at the point of slaughter.
The stocking density rules gave producers the opportunity to apply for a higher level of 39kg/sq m, provided they met certain requirements, he said. A lower density of 33kg/sq m would be imposed on remaining units (see below for exemptions).
Broiler growers would need to notify their local Animal Health office of their intentions, using an SD notification form. This would be sent out to all relevant qualifying producers on the Poultry Register.
The minimum requirements for units to qualify for the higher SD would include a detailed description of the production system, including information on power, alarms, ventilation and heating. Readings of temperature and relative humidity, plus carbon dioxide and ammonia levels, should also be measured during high-risk periods.
Members of the Assured Chicken Production Scheme should already be achieving most of the standards set out in the new rules, but some additional paperwork and proof of work carried out was inevitable, Mr Emery said.
One example was the record keeping required by designated bird keepers. This should show chick placings, breed and the total area available to the birds. There was also an obligation to note down precise numbers for birds found dead and culls, with details of the causes, if known.
Keeping up to date
Anyone identified as a “keeper” would need to undertake formal training in bird care, handling and preventative biosecurity measures, added Mr Emery.
Training at NVQ level or above was acceptable, but it was best to ask a training provider about qualifying courses. However, “grandfather” rights would be granted to anyone who had worked with poultry for five years or more in the last decade.
A Food Chain Information document, stating breed, age, production type and mortality details would need to accompany birds from each house being moved to the slaughter point.
Bird condition would be recorded at the processing plant for individual farms, and if post-mortem assessments indicated a poor standard of bird welfare, the data would be sent to the local Animal Health office, for further investigation.
Units repeatedly falling short of the directive’s requirements would be demoted to 33kg/sq m, as a last resort. However Mr Emery said animal health officers had expressed their willingness to work with producers, to help them meet the new standards.
Midlands-based broiler grower, Ian Johnson said he broadly supported any regulations aimed at improving conditions for birds. However he expressed concerns over possible “gold-plating”, and whether the regulations would be implemented in full across the rest of Europe.
“These rules do not sound too onerous, and raising bird welfare standards is in producers’ best interests,” he said. “But there seems to be some overlap, with most of the requirements already covered by assurance schemes.”
The directive covers all chickens kept for meat production except:
• Holdings with fewer than 500 birds
• Breeding stock
• Free-range and organic systems
• Extensive indoor (stocking rates of 15 birds/sq m up to 25kg) and outdoor systems
Minimum requirements on all units covered by the directive
• Drinkers to be positioned and maintained to minimise spillage
• Feed not to be withdrawn more than 12 hours before anticipated time of slaughter
• Birds to have permanent access to dry, friable surface litter
• Noise levels to be kept to a minimum
• Records to be retained for a minimum of three years
• Aim to start compliance as soon as possible
• Find out about formal training courses
• Consider whether to apply for grandfathers’ rights
• Watch out for the announcement of a regulation start date for England
• Contact your local animal health authority, if you do not receive your SD notification form by post
• Return the SD form, including details on whether you are applying for the standard or higher stocking rate.
• Apply for lifetime “grandfather” rights immediately, if appropriate, because applications can only be accepted during the first six months.