The study said it was essential that the UK finally made a big step away from the ancient practice of beak trimming that had previously been reported. Farm Animals Welfare Committee in 1997 as a “major affront to welfare”.
bulletin Conservative Animal Welfare FoundationThe report says that after 25 years, alternatives have emerged and should be given priority.
These include good management strategies, ecological enrichment, small herds with low stocking densities, and appropriate gene selection. All of these practices are public ways to reduce suffering and enhance the general well-being of the millions of animals on UK farms each year. It’s time to focus on strategies that respect the animals we raise and protect our environment and our future.”
But British Egg Industry Council CEO Mark Williams said beak trimming is currently necessary for chickens in all production systems to avoid harmful feather pecking and the occasional cannibal.
Williams, who added that the Beak Trimming Action Group (BTAG) advised the government against a ban in 2015 as the risks to animal welfare were too great.
The report highlights how a ban in 2010 was planned but delayed to allow alternative solutions to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism to become more entrenched. In the 12 years since then, despite improved management strategies and genetic selection for birds, beak pruning is still permitted and widely used.
Infrared beak trim
The report notes that in the past decade, infrared beak trimming has been the only routinely allowed beak trimming as it has replaced traditional methods such as hot blades or cold trimming. This procedure involves focusing a high-intensity infrared beam at the tip of the beak, which penetrates the hard outer horn, damaging an area of the dermis and subcutaneous tissue.
The report claims that this practice leads to pain and sensory loss, reduced birds’ ability to manipulate the elements in their environment, and facilitates higher levels of infestation with ectoparasites (northern bird mites and chicken body lice).
She adds that several research papers have reported that beak trimming is followed by rapid changes in heart and respiratory rates and blood pressure in several species, such as chickens and ducks, as well as persistent increases in circulating stress hormones (corticosterone) in chickens. Scientific studies have found that infrared-trimmed birds feed less than untied birds up to 4 weeks of age, resulting in a lower growth rate.
Beak trimming alternatives
Austry specifies alternative options:
Improving the environment for birds with more fertilization or suitable surfaces for pecking (flock block, soil, wood).
Proactive herd monitoring and adapted environmental and management practices:
- Early access to litter has been found to reduce feather pecking, even in large flocks. Hens that have access to the forage substrate spend up to 40% of their time searching for food.
- Raised roosts provide birds with an opportunity to escape from undesirable social interactions and undesirable environmental conditions, thus reducing their stress level.
- Feeding mashed foods that are consumed more slowly than pelleted foods, as well as feeding high-fiber, low-energy or roughage diets, and providing a stable diet all the time are associated with reduced feather pecking.
- Low-density flocks experience less feather plucking during rearing.
- Providing a constant lighting environment, regulated sound intensity, low levels of carbon dioxide and ammonia, and an appropriate thermal comfort zone is essential to mitigate feather clicking behaviour.
- Access to a more complex and stimulating environment, such as outdoor spaces where birds can forage in wooded areas, can also help.
- Environmental fertilizations such as twine and straw bundles have been shown to be effective in reducing the prevalence of severe feather bleeds.
- Reducing severe environmental changes between the breeding and breeding stages to reduce stress and thus the development of feathers pits.
- Genetic selection for breeds that display a lower propensity to develop feathers and express lower overall levels of fear and stress can help prevent feather plucking.
The report can be found over here.