Nest box manufacturers and genetics companies are being urged by McDonald’s UK to consider the issue of hen smothering in future product designs and breed development.
The call follows research examining the impact and causes of smothering in free range laying hens which was funded by McDonald’s as part of its Farm Forward programme and undertaken by FAI Farms, together with its suppliers Noble Foods and The Lakes Free Range Egg Company.
The first phase of the project, published in 2014, revealed that more than half of commercial free range laying hen flocks are affected by smothering and that it is an unpredictable and difficult issue for farm managers to address.
The second phase, which is newly completed, explored the relationships between frequency of smothering and bird health, as well as housing design and management practices. While researchers found no relationship between health and incidences of smothering, links were established between the frequency of smothering and particular management techniques and system designs.
According to FAI research scientist, Annie Rayner, smothering in the nest boxes was found to be affected by both the breed of bird and the type of nest box design. Nest box design was also found to affect smothering occurring outside of the nestboxes, perhaps reflecting different layouts of housing.
Although there are many knowledge gaps concerning smothering, McDonald’s said that it believes the impact of this issue should be taken into consideration by nest box manufacturers when designing housing systems and by genetics companies in their future breed development.
Lakes Free Range Egg Company CEO, David Brass, added: “Before this project, the significance of smothering to the UK free range egg industry was not clearly understood. Now, the extent of the problem is clear and solutions are being developed in partnership with the wider scientific community and laying hen industry, which is fantastic.”