Comment: The push for antibiotic free poultry comes with a big welfare cost

By Charles Bourns, broiler grower and egg & poultry chair, Copa Cogeca

This month thanks to Aviagen I have had a week’s course on all aspects of feeding, managing, growing and all other bits and pieces involved in farm management.

It was done over five days and was open to people all over the world, so about 250 people took part from Australia to the United Kingdom. As always, I learnt a little and was especially interested in the lecture on antibiotic-free production in America, which now accounts for 50%+ of their production.

Animal welfare does not seem important in their market, which is being driven by the desire for antibiotic-free. Ours is driven by welfare and the two are not compatible.

It is acknowledged that antibiotic-free production is less carbon efficient and in 2020 66 billion broilers will be grown, which will require an extra three million tonnes of feed and an extra 1.5 million acres to grow it on, all due to lack fo antibiotics.

On the farm they recommended some of the following practices, to reduce the need for antibiotics. A reduced stocking density from 7.5 lbs per square foot to 6 lb; not putting chicks on the farm from flocks over 50weeks of age; water ph of 5.7; and where allowed vaccinate about 40% of the birds for cocci at 14/16 days.

They also treat the litter with an additive to inhibit ammonia and lower litter ph when the chicks are young. They also use a great deal of probiotics. They do not like all vegetable diets as it causes wet litter.

At home, the weather has been causing havoc, having to cope with the extreme heat one minute and the next the winds. The new catching tunnel was pushed two feet away, but at least it is still in one piece unlike the Portaloo! But the chicken have survived thank goodness, as we had the BBC come and record an interview in the shed and the chicken behaved themselves. 

I do have a worry at present that the coronavirus is in danger of really damaging our very successful industry with the closing of processing plants completely. In America it is a legal requirement that the plants continue to kill the chicken even if they cannot cut them up. I say this because I hope those who can, will lobby for this to be introduced in the UK. The problem does not only effect poultry but also pigs.

And my second worry is the lack of straw for litter. I am asking for a derogation to reduce the number of enrichment bales we use.


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