Going Cage-Free Need Not Impact Profitability

ANALYSIS - The adoption of good management practices and animal welfare poses a number of challenges for farmers making the switch from more intensive systems. However, it need not negatively impact the profitability and quality of the final product.
calendar icon 19 December 2016
clock icon 4 minute read

FAI Farms in Brazil, part of Benchmark, is a pioneer in the production of cage-free eggs in partnership with Korin Agricultural company. At FAI Farms’ 420-acre site in Jaboticabal, São Paulo State, they have demonstrated it is possible to commercially rear laying poultry to higher welfare standards that permit hens greater freedom to carry out natural behaviours such as ranging, dust bathing, nesting and perching.

FAI Farms Director, Murilo Quintiliano, said in an interview with Brazil’s National Society of Agriculture (SNA): "Cage-free farming is extremely feasible and can achieve high performance which benefit both the birds and the farmer. Brazil has excellent technical, scientific, environmental and economic conditions to implement any system, be it conventional or alternative egg production.

"Because of this, we support the implementation of procedures to improve the welfare of the birds while maintaining productivity and hence profitability. It's more than proven that alternative systems for laying hens are 100 per cent effective."

He points out that the farming systems pioneered by FAI Farms are supported by science and focus on putting the animal at the centre of their designs. Birds at the farm in Jaboticabal are considered cage-free. Birds are housed in large sheds with ample access to perches, nest boxes, areas for dust bathing and enrichment which is proven to provide high welfare conditions.

More labour may be required

According to Quintiliano, higher welfare systems often require more care, attention and physical presence of farmer workers.

"Higher welfare farming by nature is less intensive so has less built-in automation, which can pose challenges in terms of increased labour. The space required per bird is also higher. "

However there are advantage of rearing poultry out of cages, said Quintiliano: "We have eggs of better quality, healthier animals and a product that is better accepted by the market, especially those who know how the eggs are produced today.”

"From a production point of view, our experience shows ours chickens are able to maintain peak production for a longer period."

Lack of knowledge forms barrier to cage-free switch

Quintiliano reports that currently a large proportion of Brazilian egg production comes from hens kept in cages: "Pressure from consumers has increased and this is clear because the positions of some large food companies has switched in favour of alternative egg production.”

Quintiliano believes that a lack knowledge and entrepreneurship in production sectors is a barrier to the uptake of alternative systems.

"Successful experiences and a consumer market exist for those wanting to make the switch. I'm glad to quote the example of FAI Farms Brazil as a success. We have managed to maintain competitive costs and a margin of interesting sale, applying science, knowledge and technology in daily production."

Integration is the key

Integration and diversity of production systems within the farm – whether small, medium or large – is important for farmers and producers looking to future-proofing their business.

"We have demonstrated how to do this in a way that respects the environment, animal welfare and business profitability. Diversification is the key word, but we know that it is difficult for those producers who are accustomed to monoculture farming. But we want to demonstrate that it is possible and to support those producers looking to make the change."

Further Reading

The FAI Farms of Brazil is a research company and transfer of technology that works with farmers, researchers, universities and organisations to develop sustainable livestock production strategies. For more information, visit www.faidobrasil.com

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