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Good Agricultural Practice - Broiler Production

Case studies of higher welfare production

There is also a summary of the China case study.

Intensive broiler production

Intensively reared broiler chickens are kept in barren sheds at high stocking densities and have been bred to grow fast to produce cheap chicken meat economically. This leads to a range of welfare problems.

Fast growing breeds are likely to suffer from lameness, heart conditions and fatigue, problems which increase as they reach their slaughter-weight. The parents of these birds – broiler breeders – suffer severe hunger due to feed restriction. If they grew like their offspring they would suffer from obesity, severe lameness, infertility and their life-expectancy would be low.

High stocking densities can result in high temperatures, humidity and ammonia pollution. Damp polluted litter can lead to footpad dermatitis, hock burns and breast blisters. Whilst ventilation and good litter management may alleviate these issues to some extent, high stocking densities limit chicken behaviour and increase jostling. They may even limit lying behaviours.

Higher welfare production

Welfare can be improved by choice of healthier breeds, lower stocking densities and providing environmental resources that encourages activity. This is good for both physical and mental health.

All the farms in our case studies use slower growing breeds. The birds are much more active. They suffer from lower levels of lameness, hock burns and footpad dermatitis. The female parents of the hybrids used in the UK studies are not fast-growing and do not need feed-restriction.

They also require lower stocking densities and environmental enrichment. Windows provide natural light and encourage activity which is good for leg health. Straw bales provide for perching and scratching. Pecking objects are also supplied. Most of the farms also provide outside access to range which encourages exercise and provides for a range of natural behaviours.

The Chinese case study is a free-range organic system using a traditional dual-purpose breed. Many of the females are kept to lay eggs. The males grow slowly to produce high quality meat. Lower levels of production are good for the health of both sexes. Keeping males for meat in an egg-laying breed not only results in higher welfare meat production; it also means that males of laying breeds are not killed at birth.

The first two UK farms are certified by the higher-welfare RSPCA Freedom Food scheme which requires slower growing breeds and lower stocking densities. The organic UK farm is certified by the Soil Association. EU organic rules encourage slower growing breeds and lower stocking densities.

Animal Welfare Aspects of Good Agricultural Practice

For more information about our Animal Welfare Aspects of Good Agricultural Practice programme for agriculture, veterinary, animal science and animal management courses, see Animal Welfare Aspects of Good Agricultural Practice.

The aim of Good Agricultural Practice should be to achieve development that is sustainable – good for consumers, humans health, food security, rural development, environment and animal welfare, both now and in the future.

Good Agricultural Practice - Broiler Production

Case studies of higher welfare broiler production for agriculture, veterinary and animal science courses.

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