Yorkshire Egg Producers discuss feather cover

General challenges in egg production and ways of maintaining feather cover were discussed at the January meeting at a workshop run by the Laying Hen Welfare Forum. Key concerns were disease challenges, litter quality and ventilation. Providing enrichments, including pecking blocks, was found to be useful by many producers to maintain feather cover.

Presentation: the background concerning the derogation the UK has had from EU legislation which bans beak trimming was outlined by Mark Williams, CEO of BEIC. The LHWF had been asked by ministers to take on the work of the Beak Trimming Action Group to continue to demonstrate progress on reducing injurious pecking and therefore moving towards being able to manage hens without beak trimming. MW thought ending beak treatment would be industry-led, mentioning EU countries such as Denmark and outlining LHWF fact-finding visits to Austria and the Netherlands. In Austria a market-led ban on beak-trimming is in place.  

Project Officer Paula Baker explained the project, which has involved 2 visits to 27 flocks and support to others. The aim has been to encourage uptake of extra measures to help control feather pecking and focus attention on feather cover by feather scoring using the Assurewel scheme for 50 birds randomly chosen. The project is also monitoring barriers to uptake and aims to give guidelines regarding core strategies and ways to add a bespoke Feather Cover Action Plan to the Flock Health Plan. Three short videos of producers explaining how to measure feather cover, manage litter and provide an attractive range were then shown. These will shortly be available from the website, which has much useful material and links to FeatherWel:

Workshop

Dr Claire Weeks, University of Bristol and Paula Baker asked delegates to write down at least one issue facing them as egg producers and then to discuss these with their table before agreeing on the top 3 to share with the whole group.

Ventilation and litter quality were key issues along with disease challenges. In no particular order, other issues included: floor eggs; egg pricing structure; egg size (struggling to meet target); staffing; breed; chick quality; water and feed quality/feed changes; diet and bird weight; vermin/predation; red mite; weather conditions.

Given that many of these issues impact bird stress and pose challenges for maintaining feather cover, this was now considered in more depth. In 6 groups, lists of strategies being used to help maintain good feather cover were drawn up. Then everybody voted for their top 3 strategies per table in terms of what they already found effective or might take home and try as a new good idea to manage injurious pecking (IP). The results are shown in the chart below, where the larger the slice the more votes received. Lighting, enrichments, ranging and litter quality were the main choices.

To conclude, everyone was asked where they felt they needed more help or information, including more research. Clearly management could impact all and some, such as egg (shell) quality and size are multifactorial. Key topics were: 

  • Housing (Lighting, air quality, barn vs. free range, benefits of winter housing)
  • Diet (Alternative protein sources, diet changes)
  • Disease control (vaccine efficiency, red mite, Salmonella)
  • Bird characteristics (breed comparison, genetics (including immunity), smothering and other behaviour (including floor egg laying).

Transport & transfer from rear were also mentioned and reducing the number of second quality eggs.

Discussing how to maintain feather cover at the workshop

Acknowledgements

The team was very grateful for the invitation and hospitality and in general to the help of all producers and others who have assisted with and participated in the project, which is part-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

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Part funded by

The work of the Laying Hen Welfare Forum is part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development