EU stocking rates blamed for poor welfare of end-of-lay birds

Transported end-of-lay birds are succumbing to hypothermia in the winter due to EU stocking rates, according to an ongoing pan-European study.

Researchers are concerned that current EU guidelines could be leading to a greater loss of birds from hypothermia.

The EU Hennovation project, which is part of the Horizon 2020 EU Research and Innovation programme, is looking at the transport of end-of-lay hens and injurious feather pecking.

Claire Weeks, project laying hen technical expert from the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences, said evidence was needed to further investigate the issue.

See also: Poultry health advice for a warm, wet winter

“All five partner countries [UK, Spain, Czech Republic, Holland and Sweden] are trying to obtain data to build an international database to analyse for risk factors relating to mortality during transport at end-of-lay,” she added.

Four networks are focusing on end-of-lay transport and handling, with the UK group looking at options for improving efficiency of moving birds between furnished cages and transport lorries.

Ms Weeks said: “The welfare of the birds would be improved if they could be loaded directly into their transport container at the cage front thus avoiding carrying them upside-down, single-leg carrying and potential injuries from being hit against objects while being carried down long aisles.

“There are considerable benefits for the human catchers too if their exhausting workload could be reduced,” she added.

There are eight networks looking at injurious feather pecking, concentrating on the effect of light and nutrition; methods of feather scoring; increased communication between pullet rearers and producers; the influence of predators on stress and injurious pecking and new ideas for marketing eggs of non-beak-trimmed birds.

The size of the on-farm networks varies from five to eight producers with a variety of support based on the specific topic being addressed, including feed companies, scientists and pullet rearers.

David Main, project co-ordinator from the University of Bristol, said the network facilitators had been enthused by the response from producers.

“The groups have been defining the specific problem they would like to work on and working out exactly what innovations they would like to trial and explore in greater detail,” he said.

“The project is due to develop policy recommendations to help realise the full potential of practice-driven innovation through multi-stakeholder networks in the poultry and other livestock sectors.”

An online knowledge network hub has been established and further information about the project is available on the Hen Hub website