|Tonight a team was on the road in the Netherlands to conduct random inspections of chicken trucks. We spotted three empty poultry trucks from the Belgian company Wilki, parked at a Dutch laying hen farm near Lunteren.
We know Wilki very well, having complained about the condition of their crates last year, many of which were broken and risking caving in under the weight and crushing the birds inside. We also observed many injured and even dead birds on the Wilki trucks, with their wings crushed in the upper door of the crates (see photo, second-down on left). We have been in regular contact with them since, negotiating improvements. We were happy to observe tonight that most of the broken crates had indeed been replaced by new ones, as they promised us (see photo, top on the left).
After briefly presenting ourselves to the farmer, we watched the loading of the laying hens into the transport crates. A positive observation was that the aviary, with thousands of laying hens inside, had surprisingly good air quality- it was not dusty or heavy with ammoniac as we have experienced on other large egg farms.
The poultry-catching team was relatively decent compared to video footage we have seen and other inspections we have been on- no kicking or throwing of the birds, loud screaming or laughing. Nevertheless many of the hens still suffered from pain and stress when loaded into the crates. The door opening at the top of the crates is very small and the catchers, with 4 birds turned upside down in each hand, literally stuff them through the small- door opening. Even if a catcher tried to be gentle, it would be difficult not to cause harm due to the design of the crate. The small door meant that some birds got their wings and legs caught outside the door. During this action, the hens would start crying out. We are very concerned that they experience fractures to their wings and legs. Fortunately, at least when we were there, the poultry catchers were at least checking that all limbs and wings were inside the crate before slamming the door shut. A few times a hen tried to pop out her head as the door was being shut, but the catcher would then push her head down again to avoid injury.
Eyes on Animals is soon going to meet with a Dutch company that builds chicken crates, to discuss making a new design that takes better account of the welfare of the birds during loading and transport. We are going to insist that the loading door be larger, with sliding doors to avoid any body parts being crushed, and with side doors so birds can be accessed also after the crates are stacked on the lorry. We are going to insist that members from the chicken industry participate and get active with these plans. A Dutch poultry transporter is ready to join us at this meeting, and we will recommend that Wilki and a egg farmer and representative of the Dutch chicken industry also come. Should we succeed, we can decrease the suffering of millions of birds in the future. People will not stop eating eggs or chicken, so we have a duty to improve their welfare during catching and loading for now.