This morning we gave a presentation to the UK government agency DEFRA and their committee of experts AWC (Animal Welfare Committee). We shared our knowledge, experiences and advice on ‘upright’ catching, as well as showing them the conventional methods of catching, loading and transporting. Sadly we continue to see serious welfare issues, such as hens flying against metal parts of the aviary out of panic when caught by their legs and held upside down. And broilers who are thrown into transport containers from a distance, causing collisions and injuries. We also expressed our concerns on the catching and loading of ducks; who are often lifted and held by their heads or necks.
We shared our recommendations on the design of transport containers and crates. For example: Tall containers (5 drawers or more), those made out of metal, insufficient head-space, and containers with too small openings, all of which significantly increase injuries. Sometimes container systems designed for broilers, are used for hens too. Hens however require much more headspace; meaning they are forced into the drawers, often getting crushed when the drawers are closed.
We also discussed working conditions for chicken-catchers. They have to do physically hard work, in barns that are often very dirty and dusty. The work shifts are often very long, and are regularly done during the night, but wages and morale is low. When a person has to catch tens of thousands of birds each day, under such harsh working conditions, there is a good chance of “compassion fatigue” developing amongst the workers. Compassion Fatigue is a condition where due to emotional and physical exhaustion, the person is unable to feel compassion towards others. Social and peer pressure also plays a role. It is one of the reasons Eyes on Animals is of the opinion that catching and loading, on the very large farms, needs to be (partly) automated, as with machines you avoid this risk. But, it is imperative that machines are designed with the birds needs in mind, and be operated and maintained accordingly. The machines that are currently on the market (those we know of), still need improvement.
All these problems, both bird and catcher related, are not unique to the Netherlands. They happen all over the world. In the Netherlands, a number of egg farms now catch hens using the upright method, instead of upside down by the legs; this way we take some of the stress and pain away from the birds. But we still have a long way to go. We hope that we have inspired the experts today, and the UK will follow the Netherlands by introducing the “upright” catching method and make much needed improvements to the design of the transport containers! The expert committee were attentive, they were impressed with our work and seemed motivated to get improvements in place.