Comments sought on laying hen draft code of practice

The animal care council hopes to have an updated code outlining changes on hen housing and industry transition this year

About 500 comments have been filed in response to the draft code of practice for care and handling of pullets and laying hens.

The public comment period closes Aug. 29, so many more responses are anticipated and welcomed, said National Farm Animal Care Council general manager Jackie Wepruk.

“The bulk of submissions generally tend to come in the latter half of the public comment period because, of course, the document is substantial and so it takes time for stakeholders to review it, absorb what’s being said and then put together their own submission,” said Wepruk.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise that we expect this to be a very busy public comment period because of the media and public profile around the whole cage-free debate….”

The draft version of the code addresses the hen housing issue and includes guidance on transitioning the egg industry from primarily conventionally caged housing to enriched or free-run systems.

Egg Farmers of Canada, which is involved in code development along with other groups and organizations, committed earlier this year to replace conventional cages with more humane housing over the next 20 years.

It plans to switch at least half of Canada’s egg operations to enriched or free-run housing within the next eight years.

The draft code of practice thus includes a proposed transition strategy to balance public desires to phase out conventional cages with industry’s ability to make that change “in an orderly manner that is practical, feasible, cost-efficient for farmers and consumers,” according to the draft code’s introduction.

Wepruk said the need to acknowledge and include material on housing transitions added a level of complexity to the code development process and the tasks of the 17-person committee working on it.

“Their obligation, of course, is to totally focus on the welfare of hens and, of course keep in mind that a good life for hens fundamentally requires that farmers are able to deliver on those standards, so that has required a really robust deliberation amongst the code development committee,” she said.

The draft code includes requirements and recommendations for more space per bird than is standard in conventional housing.

That will require new barns, and construction of those will have to be organized and staggered so that the needed level of egg production continues.

As well, pullet housing must change so the birds can make an easy transition to enriched or free-run systems.

“When you go cage-free, you have to also adapt your pullet barn to make it cage-free. You cannot raise a pullet in a cage and expect it to work in a free-run facility,” said Darrel Mendel, the egg barn manager at Brant Hutterite Colony near Brant, Alta., which has just built a new free-run laying barn.

The draft code notes that this is the first time in Canada that housing standards for enriched systems have been defined. Enriched systems provide larger cages for hens that have specific nesting and perching areas.

Hen housing may have the highest public profile, but the draft code also includes requirements and recommendations for feed and water, lighting, litter management, bird health, handling, transportation and euthanasia.

The draft Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets and Laying Hens can be found at www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/poultry-layers.

The development committee’s goal is to finalize the code by the end of this year, but Wepruk said that will depend on public comments and how they affect the draft version.

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