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Controversy Emerges over NZ Hen Welfare Study

by 5m Editor
8 May 2009, at 9:42am

NEW ZEALAND - Some farmers have criticised the recently published survey of hen welfare hen in different farming systems.

A study of hens that found little difference in stress levels between those kept in cages, free-range or barn environments is political nonsense, a local free-range egg producer told Waikato Times.

Trevor Turvey of Whatawhata said there was no way that caged birds' stress levels were the same as their free-range counterparts.

"No, no, no, no absolutely not," Mr Turvey said. "This is just political, because if the country turned to free-range, it would put pressure on the eggs produced in New Zealand. There wouldn't be enough."

The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry (MAF) released its findings on 7 May from a survey of 60 poultry farms around New Zealand.

It found each method of farming had its advantages and issues: feather loss was worse in cages whereas higher mortality rates and injuries were more prevalent in all non-cage systems.

Stress levels were measured by analysing the levels of faecal corticosterone, which tell researchers how active the bird's adrenal glands have been.

"[The results] showed that stress in the hens was similar in all types of housing systems; however the report highlights that more variation was found within farms of the same type than between different systems," MAF animal welfare programme manager, Dr Cheryl O'Connor, said.

But Mr Turvey, who has about 160 hens, disagreed that free-range birds were at a higher risk of death. "I don't lose many. I'd be getting worried if I lost one a week."

Lichfield Poultry Farm owner Maria Paterson, who has both free-range and caged hens, also disagreed with the findings but for different reasons.

"I have both, so I can compare both," she said.

Mrs Paterson, who has 5,000 caged and 4,000 free-range birds, thought that the free-range variety were actually more stressed than the caged.

There was more fighting and competition between the free-range birds something you didn't get in cages, she said, adding that free-range were more at risk of death because of the fighting and also from parasites.

"I would say we have double the mortality rate in our free-range birds for all those reasons."

The Waikato Times article concludes that the results from the study will be passed on to the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, which will meet this year to review the code of welfare for layer hens.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.