Date: May 16, 2016
Source: University of Bristol
Recognized welfare outcome assessments within farm assurance schemes have shown a reduction in feather loss and improvement in the welfare of UK cage-free laying hens, according to the findings of a study from the AssureWel project by the University of Bristol, RSPCA and the Soil Association.
In the UK, cage-free egg-production systems account for 49 per cent of all eggs produced. Almost all of these farms are farm assured under the RSPCA's Freedom Food Scheme and some are certified to the Soil Association organic standards.
The two-year study, published in Animal Welfare, by the AssureWel project partners, which includes academics from the University's School of Veterinary Sciences examined the results of farm assurance assessor observations of feather loss in hens on RSPCA monitored Freedom Food and Soil Association members' farms using the AssureWel programme and other industry activities aimed at reducing feather loss.
In 2011 the RSPCA's Freedom Food and Soil Association farm assurance schemes introduced welfare outcome assessment into their annual audits of laying-hen farms. Feather loss was assessed on 50 birds from each flock on a three-point scale for two body regions: head and neck (HN) and back and vent (BV).
To support the observations, assessors were trained in feedback techniques designed to encourage change in farmer behaviour to improve welfare. In addition, during the second year of the study farmers were asked about changes they had made, and intended to make on their farms.