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