North­ern VIEWS

Back to grates?

The Poultry Bulletin - - 38 - By Gineke Mons

And the manda­tory in­door con­fine­ment of lay­ers has now en­tered its fifth month. Early March, the min­istry of Eco­nomic Af­fairs an­nounced that the mea­sure will be pro­longed. Even though in The Nether­lands we haven’t had any more out­breaks of Avian In­fluenza on com­mer­cial farms since Christ­mas Day; in Ger­many, France and the United King­dom the bird flu is still go­ing around. Which is bad news for the Dutch free range egg pro­duc­ers, be­cause in­door free range eggs are 2 to 3 cents cheaper than out­door free range eggs. By the way, the mea­sure doesn’t af­fect or­ganic eggs. In­door or out­door, they re­main or­ganic.

Keep­ing chick­ens in barns - whether lay­ers or broil­ers - is a topic of dis­cus­sion these days. In June 2016, the Dutch in­sti­tute for the en­vi­ron­ment and pub­lic health, RIVM, pub­lished a re­port on the ef­fects on the health of peo­ple liv­ing in the close vicin­ity of a live­stock farm. The study re­vealed both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ef­fects. Peo­ple who live around live­stock farms were found to have less asthma and al­ler­gies than peo­ple who live fur­ther away. Among those liv­ing close to live­stock farms, there were fewer peo­ple with COPD - a chronic lung dis­ease. On the other hand, peo­ple who did have COPD, of­ten had more fre­quent and/or more se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions of the dis­ease.

In ad­di­tion, a link was found be­tween poul­try farms within one kilo­me­tre of a home and a slightly higher risk of pneu­mo­nia. It is un­clear whether the ex­tra in­stances of pneu­mo­nia in the stud­ied area are caused by spe­cific pathogens that orig­i­nate from an­i­mals or by peo­ple be­com­ing more sus­cep­ti­ble to pneu­mo­nia through ex­po­sure to sub­stances emit­ted by live­stock farms, such as par­tic­u­late mat­ter, en­do­tox­ins and am­mo­nia. Nev­er­the­less, the gen­eral pub­lic clearly got the no­tion that ‘liv­ing close to farms is bad for your health’. And the idyl­lic pic­ture of a happy fam­ily liv­ing in the coun­try­side was sud­denly over­cast by a dark cloud.

New hous­ing sys­tems

It’s time for the poul­try branch to de­velop new hous­ing sys­tems, says re­searcher Al­bert Store from Wa­genin­gen Live­stock Re­search. Hens should no longer tread on their own ma­nure. Poo should be re­moved from the sta­ble as soon as pos­si­ble. That would sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the emis­sion of am­mo­nia, odour, mi­cro-or­gan­isms and par­ti­cles with en­do­tox­ins in­stantly, be­cause ma­nure is the main source of those emis­sions. All cur­rent tech­niques to re­duce emis­sions are mere patches that mit­i­gate the prob­lem, but don’t solve it, Storm says. He pleads for new hous­ing sys­tems with a com­bi­na­tion of grates un­der­neath the feed­ing and lay­ing area in the mid­dle and sep­a­rate scratch­ing/sun bathing pad­docks on the sides.

But poul­try keep­ers say that con­sumers won’t be too happy about chick­ens (back) on grates. They want them to be able to scratch and scrab­ble through the lit­ter. So, as one layer farmer sug­gests: “In­volve the An­i­mal Pro­tec­tion Agency and Wakker Dier in the de­vel­op­ment of new hous­ing sys­tems. In that way, the poul­try busi­ness doesn’t al­ways have to be on the de­fen­sive”.

Iron­i­cally, the bat­tery cage is the best hous­ing sys­tem for the en­vi­ron­ment and the pub­lic health. But there’s no way the busi­ness will go back to the cages. So here’s a pretty big chal­lenge for the fu­ture of the poul­try busi­ness.

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