Last January Eyes on Animals was invited by a major egg company in England to give them advice on the catching and loading of laying hens.
Together we visited a large laying hen farm and observed the catching and loading of the birds for transport. The hens were caught by two legs (RSPCA requirement) instead of just, as is often the case in the Netherlands, by one leg. As a result, the stress level was slightly lower. Nevertheless the birds were held upside down, 3 per hand. In the middle of the process the EonA team had the catchers switch over to the more gentle upright EonA method of catching hens (supporting them upright and not catching or holding more than 2 birds at a time). This is ultimately the most animal-friendly way to catch hens, as they will not be left hanging upside down causing pain and breathing problems as hens do not have a diaphragm.
The catching team worked calmly and in a structured manner. Nevertheless, the loading was stressful for the hens as the containers were not designed properly (the drawers were too low).
The egg producer was enthusiastic about the upright EonA catching method and wants to implement this for all barns with a flat deck system (beun). They will also consult with the slaughterhouse to adjust the design of the containers, so that birds fit in the drawers more easily and experience less stress while being loaded. We are pleased that measures will be taken to improve the welfare of the chickens.
The future plan is that Eyes on Animals will be asked to come back to give a poultry welfare training course to two other catching teams used by this UK egg company. We will also attend an international poultry exhibition where many companies exhibit their products, to draw attention to the current problems with the design of the crates and containers they are producing.