Thursday, December 15, 2016
Raising hens with intact beaks to produce cage-free eggs.
Egg producers serving the German market have kept the beaks of their hens intact to meet the beak trimming ban that went into effect for pullets placed after January 1, 2017.A Dutch egg producer with 25 years of cage-free experience has successfully transitioned to cage-free egg production from hens with intact beaks. The practice of trimming the beaks of laying hens, broiler and turkey breeders, and turkey meat birds goes back decades. Beak trimming was instituted as a management tool to prevent injury resulting from aggressive pecking and feather pecking. In spite of advancements such as infrared beak treatment, animal welfare activists have continued to push for an end to beak trimming. The German ban on placing beak-trimmed pullets went into effect January 1, 2017. Johan Bouwhuis’ farm, Bouwhuis Agro, houses 73,000 laying hens, all of which are cage free with beaks intact. This is how they operate; when a flock is first introduced from the pullet farm to the layer house, they use a product called PICKStein (peck stone) which is a mineral block containing calcium, magnesium, sodium and trace minerals at which the hens can peck. As the mineral block wears down, so does the sharp point of the hens’ beaks. Once the mineral blocks are worn down, they place some concrete blocks in the scratch areas of the houses for the hens to peck. By the end of the lay cycle, the concrete blocks have been pulverized by the hens. Alfalfa bales are also placed in a holder that rotates as the birds peck at and eat the alfalfa. The idea is to keep the hens occupied exploring and pecking something other than their flock mates. The trick is to keep them active and occupied while ensuring health protocols and management.