Last year I predicted this threat could well become a reality in terms of keeping birds indoors and under cover for 6 months of the year. I didn’t want to imagine it could become a year round issue. There will be some tough decisions and tough times ahead for backyarders, the Fancy and poultry shows if this is what the future holds.
In case you don’t live in the Midlands area or didn’t get to see me pointing out of the anomalies in one country applying HRAs (High Risk Areas) and the neighbouring country not following suit.
My thanks to David for picking up on the story, it ran for most of the day and gave the issue and avian flu some much needed coverage
(it even fulfilled a life time ambition of mine by making it on to Farming Today on Radio 4)
This might not be what people want but I can’t deny the logic behind the fact that if you can’t free range then don’t free range. It’s up to you to decide if that means don’t keep chickens, or do keep them but in a contained environment.
“UK’s Chief Vet Nigel Gibbens has said that egg producers in some higher risk bird flu areas should consider whether or not to continue with free range in future”
So…fancy some alternate facts? Read this emotional ‘plea’ to ‘save’ spent hens. They are barely a year old and looking for new homes Source: Hens could be slaughtered – unless people don’t come forward to offer them new homes – Coventry Telegraph
Yep, you read it right, farmer goes and buys 5,000 hens, puts them in a system where once they reach that ripe old age of around 72 weeks they are so desperately in need of a rest from laying eggs and want to moult that they slow down layning and therefore cease to be economically viable so get killed
It is the nature of that farming system. The ‘product’ or should we say livestock consequence is referred to as a ‘spent hen’. The value of a spent hen is around 10-30p per bird. All will go for processing returning a small payment of at least £500. Not much and but it is how millions of hens are disposed of because that is the nature of commercial egg production. Sell them all for £2.50 and you make a tidy £12,500 instead. Sure not all of them will get sold via that channel but sell 1000 and you get £2,500 plus the £400 for the remainder to be sold as ‘spent’, a far more tidy outcome for the disposal of a by-product of egg production.
I know I’m preaching to the converted if you read this blog but for the sake of the hens, poultry keepers and the industry as a whole, lets have a bit of transparency and stop inferring the producer is anything other than complicit in the fate of such animals and start reporting the actual facts.
And if you feel you might have read this rant before by me then you are not wrong… it was almost a year to the day that a similar story appeared in a paper and I blogged on it then
UK – The Animal and Plant Health Agency is warning farmers and smallholders not to feed catering or kitchen waste to livestock such as pigs and poultry, even if they are being kept as pets.
Breed Name: Dorking
Profile: The Dorking is a very ancient British breed believed to have its ancestry rooted back in Roman Britain where five-toed Dorking like breeds were described in texts from AD 47. It is a very heavy breed but there is no evidence as yet to suggest that, as in the case of other giant chickens, it is in any way related to the huge breeds originating from Asia. Well established in the early nineteenth century it made a significant contribution to the development of other table breeds.
Behaviour and upkeep: Because of its huge size and its loose feathering, spacious housing is required if the birds are to maintain a good look. They do not need much in terms of outdoor space and are quite content within a fixed run however care must be taken to avoid them becoming fat through lack of exercise. They can become tame if handled calmly but their size should be considered carefully if thinking of having them as pets. The hens tend only to lay during the spring and summer and fertility can present a challenge for anyone wishing to breed from a flock.
Plumage/Colours: Silver grey, Red, White, Dark, Cuckoo
Eyes: Bright red
Comb: Single, large or Rose
Feet & legs: Featherless, five toes
Large Fowl 10-14lb (4.55-6.35kg)
Bantam 40-48oz (1130-1360g)
Large Fowl 8-10lb (3.60-4.55kg)
Bantam 32-40oz (910-1130g)
Egg production – Low to medium
Egg Colour – Tinted
Classification – Heavy; Soft Feather
“CAN you make sure these chickens do not fall foul of the slaughterhouse and give them a new home?”
Yep, yet another pile of misinformation with cracking quotes like “Legally hens cannot be kept on farms for longer than 78 weeks because the quality of the eggs fall and the shells become thinner” and yet rehoming the hen is legal and in it’s also legal to sell the eggs they produce “off gate” to any old Tom, Dick or Harry.
Can someone please show me the law that states a commercial laying hen is illegal and must be slaughtered at 78 weeks of age?
So what’s the truth?
One truth is that the consistency and quality of the eggs being produced will be reduced result in an impact on the profit so the industry regards the hens as ‘spent’ (read, not economically viable)
Another truth is that at 78 weeks of age the hens will be heading into their first full moult. During this period they will not lay and consequently they will cost money to feed whilst delivering no product. That’ll be not economically viable again then I guess.
And then there is the one massive elephant in the room… the very industry tugging your heart strings to rescue the hens from slaughter is the very same industry that consigns them to that fate from day one by the structure of its supply chain.
Oh, but let’s not forget the little bit of maths
9,000 ‘spent hens’ will at best attract 50p per bird when sent for slaughter so according to my maths that will bring in £4,500
If however 9,000 get rehomed at £3 a bird then that brings in £27,000. A tidy profit indeed.
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about whether the story exhibits compassion and mercy or contradiction and money.
I’m quite vocal at times about the contrast between commercial poultry rearing and small scale or backyard keeping. I can be quite damning about some the legislation because I’m a great believer that in a large majority of cases one size doesn’t fit all. In fact the concept of one size fitting all seems to stem from the issue that pragmatism and scalability get side-lined. This is either because they are too expensive or are only relevant to ‘the little people’ who, by definition, are irrelevant in the grand scheme of the poultry world!
It follows on then that given my documented opinions I am sometimes challenged by people as to whether my attitude stems from a belief that small scale poultry keepers know better than the big boys and the authorities, or whether I’m just an outspoken idiot. I guess when I put these commentaries out there then it’s only to be expected that someone is going tackle me about them, I mean I’m hardly the Jeremy Clarkson of the poultry world (and have no intention of punching the Editor of Fancy Fowl) but I do realise that if you voice an opinion you are unlikely to find everyone is in agreement.
So. Do we know best? No, we don’t. I for one though do know that when it comes to livestock whatever you put into it needs to either come out again, or you better be very sure it has no consequences staying within the animal, and this is certainly one area where I think a number of small scale keepers and the Fancy can be found at fault.
It’s not so much the food stuffs used in this instance (although obviously there are issues that need to be addressed on that point) but the regime of chemicals and drugs that get administered and applied willy-nilly. There’s many a poultry keeper I’ve spoken to who decided to keep chickens because they had become concerned over the welfare of the livestock used to produce meat and eggs. Some were uneasy about the cocktail of antibiotics and vaccinations that were being administered to the chickens that supplied the high street, and this led them to rear some of their own birds. By the same measure I’ve spoken to and heard of many more backyard poultry keepers who seem to have forgotten that Betty the Hen is in fact ‘livestock’ and therefore falls under a different category to ‘pet’. Being blunt this means the stuff you squirt all over your cat to prevent biting insects can’t be applied to your chickens unless the label specifically says so. This is because ‘cat’ isn’t something you see on the supermarket shelf. By the same measure injecting your chicken with a ‘cure’ that keeps you dog fit and healthy is also a bad call, on account of the fact your dog doesn’t lay eggs for Sundays full cooked breakfast.
And then there are those I encounter within the Fancy who apply all manner of unlicensed products to their birds whilst spraying industrial insecticides throughout their sheds to minimise the risk of disease and pests burdening their show winning flock. When I challenge them a defence of “ah but these are show birds” is offered but this isn’t a defence unless you have no intention of either consuming or selling on stock or eggs. Ultimately if these people release either eggs or birds from their flock then they are running the risk of putting something into the food chain that shouldn’t be there.
As a Kansas State University pharmacologist recently said, “what you don’t know about your chickens could hurt you and others”. People who use, administer and apply ‘off-piste’, under the counter medications and chemicals need to be aware that there are potential drug residues that could sit within the eggs and meat of the bird for an indeterminate amount of time. These people do exist too because if I for one had a pound for every time I heard “I use XYZ and look, my birds are fine, and none of them have dropped dead” then I’d be able to afford a few rounds at the pub for sure.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I might be outspoken about what I consider to be daft when it comes to the application of legislation surrounding what can and cannot be fed to poultry, but this is because I’m trying to apply common sense, pragmatism and scalability. However, when it comes to the control of medications and chemical treatments then there are sound reasons why they should not be used around livestock. This is because of the risk to the food chain, so unless you can genuinely claim to “know best” then be aware you could well be inadvertently dosing our food chain with fluoroquinolones , phenylpyrazoles and all manner of lethal concoctions. Eat that.
Even if you only keep a few birds as pets or for an egg supply for the kitchen it is worth keeping up to speed on what is happening within the commercial side of our ‘hobby’
c/o The Poultry Site
CHRISTMAS SPECIAL – An editor’s selection box of some of this year’s news stories that have had the biggest impact on poultry production and trade around the world.