Egg sector touts animal welfare gains

GATINEAU, Que. — Almost all egg barns in Canada will be rebuilt within the next decade to accommodate the national code of practice mandate to eliminate conventional cages.

It’s part of a revolution within the poultry industry, said Dr. Mike Petrik, a veterinarian and poultry welfare expert with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

“That means, in essence, 95 plus percent of the barns in Canada need to be bulldozed and rebuilt, so that’s a noticeable commitment” to laying hen welfare, he told the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council forum Nov. 27.

“That means that over the next decade or so, we are going to retool almost every single laying hen barn in Canada” to have either cage-free facilities or enriched cages — those with more space per enclosure including dust baths, perches, nests and a specific egg-laying area.

The National Code of Practice for the care and handling of pullets and laying hens requires that all hens be housed in enriched or cage-free environments by July 1, 2036, although it is anticipated most will make the change within the next six to eight years.

Petrik said that’s one example of major changes in the feathered industry.

“The poultry industry is undergoing a system reinvention,” he said.

“This has been the most volatile period in poultry production in Canada that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been involved in the industry for over 40 years.”

The industry has been aggressively reducing its use of antimicrobials, and slaughter plants have committed to changes in handling and transport to improve bird welfare.

“Major slaughter plants have made commitments to change the CO2 stunning,” said Petrik.

“That’s a very, very big commitment on their part too.

“The real big animal welfare win on that is that we don’t handle conscious birds anymore. Birds are not picked out of crates and hung up. They’re pulled out of crates already unconscious and then hung on the line, which eliminates a ton of fear and risk of injury, but it requires a massive renovation and equipment investment. The whole front end of the plant had to be rebuilt, retooled.”

Transport methods are also changing, Petrik said. Broilers are the type of chicken most frequently transported, and the conventional system of putting birds in crates and loading them on trucks created issues with long wait times outdoors, creating potential health concerns.

Petrik said new module technology allows producers to capture and keep the birds in a controlled environment until the whole truck can be quickly loaded and underway.

Movement of the truck provides ventilation so long periods of sitting are a problem.

“Birds are little heat factories,” said Petrik.

“Their temperature is 42 C. We need the technology to advance with our transportation over the longer term to keep all those birds more comfortable in transport, especially in winter.”

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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