Emo­tive sub­ject

Jane Howorth, founder of the Bri­tish Hen Welfare Trust, takes a look at beak-trim­ming

Your Chickens - - British Hen Welfare Trust -

Beak trim­ming has come un­der much scrutiny in the na­tional press of late, with un­der­cover op­er­a­tions ex­pos­ing this prac­tice to the wider pub­lic. How­ever, beak trim­ming is noth­ing new and farm­ers have been em­ploy­ing the prac­tice for decades in or­der that their flocks do not feather peck each other. It is legally termed a ‘mu­ti­la­tion’ which, by its na­ture, makes it an emo­tive topic.

The pub­lic want beak trim­ming to end, and the Bri­tish Hen Welfare Trust does too - but only when we are sure that welfare will not be com­pro­mised, be­cause the rea­sons for beak trim­ming are less well doc­u­mented.

Birds kept in un­nat­u­rally large flocks, as all com­mer­cial flocks are kept to main­tain the low cost of eggs, can be­gin to dis­play un­nat­u­ral be­hav­iours, one of which is feather-peck­ing which can lead to ‘in­ju­ri­ous peck­ing’, which can then de­velop into can­ni­bal­ism, espe­cially within free range flocks. No farmer wants to see this dev­as­tat­ing welfare prob­lem within his flock, and the most ef­fec­tive way to pre­vent in­ju­ri­ous peck­ing has been through beak trim­ming.

What is also less known is that the in­dus­try is keen to find a welfare friendly al­ter­na­tive to beak trim­ming, both on grounds of welfare and ad­di­tional cost in the process of egg pro­duc­tion. Ge­net­ics are be­ing used to de­velop more docile birds as well as other means to en­sure high welfare is re­tained through­out the life of the flock, and we are al­ready see­ing some suc­cess.

Of course, all or­ganic eggs are pro­duced by hens that are not beak trimmed, and the suc­cess of the or­ganic sec­tor is partly due to birds be­ing kept in small flocks, in a welfare friendly en­vi­ron­ment, and fed a good qual­ity diet – all these fac­tors re­sult in a hap­pier, calmer flock.

It’s one of the rea­sons that we strongly en­cour­age the growth of small flocks within the free range sec­tor too.

Let’s get rid of beak trim­ming

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