Egg farmers accredited by the RSPCA Freedom Food scheme will now have to keep 5% of ranges under natural cover, in an update to its standards.
Planting trees, shrubs and other greenery on hens’ ranges is a known way to encourage birds to leave sheds and engage in natural behaviour. The RSPCA says it can also reduce disease risk, bird stress and supplement diets.
The new rules apply to any farm with a stocking density of 1,000-2,000 hens/ha. Those with fewer than 1,000 birds/ha can apply for a derogation.
Lincolnshire farmers Sam and Shelley Traves said they could see the difference a naturally enriched range brings. They have a 500m stretch of hawthorn hedge in front of their shed’s popholes and, beyond that, 500 trees of varying species. The couple now intend to plant a further 500. “This time I plan to use fruit trees,” said Mr Traves. “I can sell the fruit at a local market and I know the hens will enjoy any fallen fruit; it’s a win-win.
“I’d recommend that producers thinking about planting cover think about trees that can provide extra income, whether it’s fruit, wood or even Christmas trees.”
The RSPCA, along with advisory group Featherwel, has a range of resources that farmers can access when considering planting up a range. One downloadable guide is available from charity the Woodland Trust . It advises that late autumn is the best time to consider planting trees.
See also: Planting trees for better ranging