Being sustainable doesn’t equate to a free pass on animal welfare

Good animal-welfare credentials are in the eye of the beholder. Some consumers are willing to pay more for products from companies with reputations that align with their beliefs.
calendar icon 27 February 2020
clock icon 7 minute read

Enriched-colony (furnished-cage) systems and outdoor (pasture) systems are alternative laying hen housing systems. While conventional cage systems do not have enrichments such as nest boxes, perches and scratch pads, they do allow for better management of individual hen health. On the other hand, cage-free and outdoor systems may have a negative impact on welfare by increasing the incidence of bumblefoot, endo- and ecotoparasites and mortality. The advantages and disadvantages of conventional-cage, furnished-cage, non-cage and outdoor systems on key laying-hen welfare indicators can be seen in a figure from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA, Figure 1).

Organic production

Organic poultry production is often grouped with sustainability, which may lead consumers to believe that animals raised organically have had an acceptable amount of attention devoted to their welfare. While many organic poultry systems do maintain high welfare standards, maintaining good health and welfare on organic poultry farms can be challenging. This means that that husbandry, or knowledge and technical skills, is crucial for managing welfare issues. The three major challenges for organic poultry production have been identified as: 1) the management of birds in outdoor systems; 2) the limited use of conventional preventative medication in vaccination and disease treatment; and 3) the quality and availability of organic feed (Van De Weerd, 2009). Further research and accessible information is needed to establish the best management practices in organic poultry systems.

Enrichments

Environmental enrichments are increasingly a feature of broiler farms in the US. An enrichment is any stimuli or activity that encourages birds to display a wider range of natural behaviours and improves welfare. Most enrichments on broiler farms today are structural, and aim to promote activity. However, many structural enrichments are difficult to keep clean, may harbour pathogens and require additional labour during cleanout. Also, there are other forms of enrichment that may stimulate positive effects on broilers, such as sensory (eg visual or olfactory) and foraging (food-related) enrichments. More research is needed to identify novel enrichments that are the best option for both the birds and the producer.

The more animal-welfare standards that can be scientifically validated as having tangible benefits for poultry welfare, and the more widely these standards can be applied, the healthier the US poultry industry will be – for both its birds and its consumers.

References

American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). AVMA Issues – A Comparison of cage and non-cage systems for sousing laying hens. Accessed 19 November 2019 at https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Pages/AVMA-issues-A-Comparison-of-Cage-and-Non-Cage-Systems-for-Housing-Laying-Hens.aspx
Casey-Trott, T. M. and T. M. Widowski. 2016. Behavioral differences of laying hens with fractured keel bones within furnished cages. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 42: 1-8.
Hardin, E., F.L.S. Castro, and W. K. Kim. 2019. Keel bone injury in laying hens: the prevalence of injuries in relation to different housing systems, implications, and potential solutions. World’s Poultry Science. 2019. 75:285-292.
Laywel. 2006. Welfare implications of changes in production systems for laying hens. Accessed 19 November, 2019 at https://www.laywel.eu/web/pdf/deliverable%2071%20welfare%20assessment.pdf. .
Stratmann, A., E. K. F. Froehlich, S., S.G. Gebhardt-Henrich,, A. Harlander-Matauschek, H. Wurbel, and M. J. Toscano. 2015. Modification of aviary design reduces incidence of falls, collisions and keel bone damage in laying hens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 165:112-123.
Van De Weerd, H. A., R. Keatinge, and S. Roderick. 2009. A review of key health-related welfare issues in organic poultry production. World’s Poultry Science Journal. 65:649-684.

Enriched-colony (furnished-cage) systems and outdoor (pasture) systems are alternative laying hen housing systems. While conventional cage systems do not have enrichments such as nest boxes, perches and scratch pads, they do allow for better management of individual hen health. On the other hand, cage-free and outdoor systems may have a negative impact on welfare by increasing the incidence of bumblefoot, endo- and ecotoparasites and mortality. The advantages and disadvantages of conventional-cage, furnished-cage, non-cage and outdoor systems on key laying-hen welfare indicators can be seen in a figure from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA, Figure 1).

Organic production

Organic poultry production is often grouped with sustainability, which may lead consumers to believe that animals raised organically have had an acceptable amount of attention devoted to their welfare. While many organic poultry systems do maintain high welfare standards, maintaining good health and welfare on organic poultry farms can be challenging. This means that that husbandry, or knowledge and technical skills, is crucial for managing welfare issues. The three major challenges for organic poultry production have been identified as: 1) the management of birds in outdoor systems; 2) the limited use of conventional preventative medication in vaccination and disease treatment; and 3) the quality and availability of organic feed (Van De Weerd, 2009). Further research and accessible information is needed to establish the best management practices in organic poultry systems.

Enrichments

Environmental enrichments are increasingly a feature of broiler farms in the US. An enrichment is any stimuli or activity that encourages birds to display a wider range of natural behaviours and improves welfare. Most enrichments on broiler farms today are structural, and aim to promote activity. However, many structural enrichments are difficult to keep clean, may harbour pathogens and require additional labour during cleanout. Also, there are other forms of enrichment that may stimulate positive effects on broilers, such as sensory (eg visual or olfactory) and foraging (food-related) enrichments. More research is needed to identify novel enrichments that are the best option for both the birds and the producer.

The more animal-welfare standards that can be scientifically validated as having tangible benefits for poultry welfare, and the more widely these standards can be applied, the healthier the US poultry industry will be – for both its birds and its consumers.

References

American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). AVMA Issues – A Comparison of cage and non-cage systems for sousing laying hens. Accessed 19 November 2019 at https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Pages/AVMA-issues-A-Comparison-of-Cage-and-Non-Cage-Systems-for-Housing-Laying-Hens.aspx
Casey-Trott, T. M. and T. M. Widowski. 2016. Behavioral differences of laying hens with fractured keel bones within furnished cages. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 42: 1-8.
Hardin, E., F.L.S. Castro, and W. K. Kim. 2019. Keel bone injury in laying hens: the prevalence of injuries in relation to different housing systems, implications, and potential solutions. World’s Poultry Science. 2019. 75:285-292.
Laywel. 2006. Welfare implications of changes in production systems for laying hens. Accessed 19 November, 2019 at https://www.laywel.eu/web/pdf/deliverable%2071%20welfare%20assessment.pdf. .
Stratmann, A., E. K. F. Froehlich, S., S.G. Gebhardt-Henrich,, A. Harlander-Matauschek, H. Wurbel, and M. J. Toscano. 2015. Modification of aviary design reduces incidence of falls, collisions and keel bone damage in laying hens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 165:112-123.
Van De Weerd, H. A., R. Keatinge, and S. Roderick. 2009. A review of key health-related welfare issues in organic poultry production. World’s Poultry Science Journal. 65:649-684.
References
References

Dr. Shawna Weimer

Poultry Extension Assistant Professor at University of Maryland
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