Friday, March 27, 2015

Hygiene & Welfare Trip; Enriched Cage Laying Hens

I have an exemption from Hygiene & Welfare as I covered the content in my previous degree and have worked on lots of farms but I tagged along to their trip today, to see chickens!

It was about an hours drive on a coach outside of Kosice and I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and modern the facilities were and at how healthy the chickens were.

They buy in hybrid chicks from a hatchery at day old which are put in the first shed to grow on until they reach POL (point of lay) at around 16 weeks old. Hybrid chickens are sex-linked which means the males and females hatch out a different colour so at a few hours old they are sexed, with females being kept and sold into the laying industry and males euthanised, usually by gas so they can be sold for reptile or falconry food or macerated in a high speed fan.

Laying hens are usually vaccinated against Newcastles Disease, Salmonella, Infectious Bronchitis (IB), Avian Rhinotracheitis (ART), Mycoplasma and Mareks Disease - these are done by injecting, adding to the water and spraying in a mist above the chicks.
The grower shed was really modern with enriched cages three stories high and around a dozen growers per cage. All feeding, watering and cleaning was mechanised with light and ventilation in the shed tightly controlled.

We weren't meant to but I took a couple growers out the cages to have a look at them and they looked really healthy, bright eyes with no discharge, clean feathers and really clean feet!
I noticed all the layers in the other sheds were Goldlines but in the grower sheds they had one whole row of caged with Light Sussex, Marans and White Stars and there were people coming with crates to buy those so they must rear hybrids to sell on to the public. There were also some fully grown Ross Cobb broilers which I asked if they were for meat but they couldn't really understand what I was asking.

Once the chicks reach POL they are then moved into one of the other sheds into enriched cages to start laying. These sheds were much brighter and had feed running down the middle of the cages rather than along the front, as there was a conveyor belt along the front for egg collection.
Interestingly there was a single strand of electric wire just above the gap the eggs roll under to stop the layers from egg pecking, something I'd not seen before.
The shed was really well ventilated, light and the girls looked pretty bright and well feathered.
I was less impressed with the next shed we went into which was much bigger and had older styles of cages, 7 stories high.
That sounds really judgemental and snobby which isn't what I mean but the birds were more cramped in these cages, they were all very bald and we noticed a few dead birds in the cages. I'm not sure how well the birds in the top row were monitored as it would be really impractical to check them all the way up there. There were loads of free range girls on the floor all the way along each row!

The eggs follow the conveyor belt all the way along from each shed, along belts and down into the packing station:
Here any obviously broken, cracked or misshaped eggs were removed by hand before going through the Moba Egg Grading Machine you can see below.
The machine candled the eggs with light to look for imperfections in the shell and removed these eggs.
Next up the eggs were stamped with the production system (0=Organic, 1=Free Range, 2=Barn, 3=Caged) and the producers code.
Then they were sorted by size and packed into trays of 30 and boxes of 6 or 12 for sending out to retail!

Overall I was impressed with how clean and modern it all was and I had expected much worse being out here in Eastern Europe but I guess after the EU legislation changed banning battery caged on 1st January 2012 they would have had to update all their cages to enriched anyway.
Bit of a contrast to Birchgrove, the Free Range egg farm we visited in Wales for my last degree.


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