Happy Hens Lay More Eggs

INDIA - Dr T. Kotaiah of Indbro Research & Breeding Farms Pvt. Ltd puts forward his case that hen welfare needs to be balanced with the production of food for a growing human population.
calendar icon 4 April 2014
clock icon 8 minute read

Dr Kotaiah writes: "There was an article in an Indian Poultry magazine, March 2014 issue, on page 15, referring to my article published on ThePoultrySite."

Human beings have domesticated the animals since time immemorial, writes Dr Kotaiah. Consumption of animal protein for the healthy growth of human being has been accepted. The best way not to hurt the animals is not to use them for human food. But animals are being distinguished between “Pet animals” and “Food animals”. The advanced countries and the countries who are preaching the “Animal Welfare” of late, are the highest consumers of the animal protein. In fact, they were exporting the meat to Asian countries and still want to do it. The developing countries understood the value of the animal protein in fighting the malnutrition of their under nourished children much later and started animal production scientifically and in larger scale. The growth has picked up in Asia after 2000 and it is just picking up in the Middle East and Africa after 2010. The advanced countries are loosing the export business as the animal production picks up in the developing countries and welfare is a new way to counter the growth.

The poultry production practices are evolved over a period of time with research and the methodology was taught to us by the advanced countries. Indian poultry farmers have developed their own housing systems and feed formulations to produce the eggs at the most reasonable price. Today the price of an egg at the farm gate is sold at Rs3.50 each where as a cup of 50ml tea sells at Rs10. The farmer produces 315 eggs from each hen housed in contrast to 250 eggs he used to produce 20 years ago. The feed prices have gone up by 250 per cent since last 20 years. He could not have done it by keeping the birds unhappy.

The animal welfare activists unfortunately are not animal/poultry producers and are more biased against the producers. They think that people involved in poultry production are cruel and unconcerned to the well-being of the animals. They should discuss the matter with the producers who are the major stake holders in the whole issue.

I am a veterinarian concerning with the well-being and treatment of animals. The animals do not speak a specific language but they react. The well-being of a pet animal is judged by the way it responds to it’s Human master/colleague. A food animal responds by its productivity.

An animal that is free roaming, that grows very slowly, needs more feed and emits more green house gases, is less efficient on the part of the sustainability. The consumer ends up paying more. It's tough message for the consumers but that is the truth. Can the consumers in developing countries afford to pay more? Two billion people on globe do not eat food every day.

HAPPY ANIMALS grow fast and put on weight like a well-fed child. A fat well-fed child is not necessarily fed with Hormones nor he is genetically modified. He eats a hearty food when he likes it and puts on weight. Parents still want him to eat well and do not mind his over weight. Chickens fed on nutritious food grow fast or lays more eggs. The birds are happy. The productivity is high. Ultimately it is economical and healthy.

A chicken doesn't become genetically modified by eating genetically modified feed.

The live animals react to the environment in which they are living. Less number of deaths, faster growth and more eggs per hen show that the birds are happy, the way they are living and with the food they are getting. A flock of chickens living in filthy environment die of diseases, do not grow well, peck at each other in disgust and stop laying eggs.

The systems for the present day poultry keeping are well researched and the poultry producers believe that only

Happy Hens Lay More Eggs

The well being of the living animal is a must for the producer whether it is a pet animal or food animal, says Dr Kotaiah. The poultry producer is more concerned about his poultry than his own children. If he looses on a flock of chicken, he cannot look after his children. The farmer spends sleepless nights to safe guard the interest of his birds.

As the Human beings understood the nutritious value, healthy and un-adulterability of poultry products, the consumption is going up. Naturally the productions are going up. But it does not mean that it is being done in an haphazard and unconcerned manner. If we watch the poultry production two decades ago and now, the mortality rates of the birds have gone down. The productivity has gone up. When the productivity goes up, it should be taken as a healthy growth. Living animals respond very negatively for harsh treatment.

Let us discuss why the welfare activists who do not spend time on a farm imagine the misery of the birds.

Cages and Confinement

For instance, there is good evidence that free ranging chickens are not animals with lower stress hormones than animals that are caged, according to Dr Kotaiah. So it is not true that when you increase space, the stress is lower..

Why cages were invented? Poultry birds get diseases like coccidiosis and Salmonella bacteria from their own droppings. When the disease spreads, the birds die in heaps. The other alternative is to medicate them constantly. The birds are kept away from the droppings when they are housed on the wire floor cages. The medication of anticoccidials and antibacterials (antibiotics) is near zero on caged birds. The ability to flutter should not be the yard stick to the welfare. The number of deaths, the amount of medication and the productivity should be the yard stock of welfare.

The birds on ground not only meddle with their own droppings, but also lay eggs on the floor which get soiled with their droppings.The contamination levels of the eggs laid on the floor should be 10 times higher than the eggs laid in cages. The human beings are better protected with less contaminated eggs and less medicated birds kept in cages compared to the eggs deposited by the hen on the ground or litter.

Chicken is not a very compassionate animal even to fellow birds. Leave a group of chickens out on the ground and watch what happens. One bird pecks at the other one till the other one accepts the bossism of the first one. If we have a group of birds, the fight among them selves goes on till a complete peck order is established. A the boss of, B,C and D. B is the boss of C and D but subordinate of A. C is the boss of D but the subordinate of A and B. One can imagine the fight among the birds in larger numbers. Confining them to small groups in cages say 3 or 4 birds reduces the interaction among themselves and the inhumane situation and the death rate due to pecking is avoided. Cages prevent social interactions and fighting among the birds.

Beak Trimming

If birds see some thing peculiar on the other, it pecks. If the birds see the blood and taste it, they do not leave the victim till it bleeds to death. The bird once tastes the blood, will be looking for blood and keep killing the birds in the flock. One should be crying to see such a situation. Confining them in small groups in cages reduces such an incidence. 'Debeaking' was invented 100 years ago to prevent the pecking among the birds. Cutting the cartilaginous tip of the beak with immediate cauterisation is much less painful compared to pecking seen in a flock of birds.

When you see your child grow fatty, you try to restrict his food. If we eat toxic food and suffer, you abstain from food or regular food for some time. Starvation is practised as a therapy even in human beings and not as a punishment. Starving and putting the birds to disgust is in no way advantageous to the bird keeper. It is always done with a purpose and scientifically when needed. No poultry farmer imagines that he can grow chickens or produces eggs by starving them.

The present management practices and the way they are kept, are well researched and accepted to keep the birds happy so that they give out their best performance. There is no way that the birds will be kept to distress and the farmer earns more profits.

Dr Kotaiah concludes that it looks that a gap exists between the animal welfare activists and the poultry keepers. I, as a poultry veterinarian would request the welfare activists to treat the poultry keepers as the biggest “stakeholders” but express their concerns. He adds that we, the poultry growing paternity respect anybody’s concern on the birds and welcome their advice. He firmly believes that only healthy birds and happy birds lay more eggs. The welfare of the birds is the welfare of the owner and he works hard to see that the birds are happy.

Further Reading

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