Poultry and Welfare
Poultry welfare matters for both ethical and practical reasons. From an ethical perspective, chickens have a sufficient degree of awareness or “sentience” to suffer pain if their health is poor, or deprivation if they are poorly housed. From a practical viewpoint, consumers value poultry welfare, so better market access may be obtained by producers who ensure good welfare in their flocks. Information about the topic is available from this website through links to information notes on specific subjects.
Much progress has been made over the past 20 years in developing valid methods to measure poultry welfare. Scientific research into the coping capacity and preferences of chickens has allowed the development of measures that can be used to audit the welfare of laying hens and broiler chickens on commercial farms. Accurate measurement is the first step to achieving welfare improvement. There are powerful economic incentives for taking action when welfare problems are detected, because improved welfare frequently results in improved production.
Occasionally, however, standards of poultry welfare must be safeguarded by legislation. Some countries have banned (or intend to ban) such housing systems as conventional cages for laying hens. Legislation can also set limits on factors such as stocking density for broiler chickens, and even higher levels of welfare can be achieved by producers who participate in voluntary assurance schemes. The information notes review welfare problems such as leg health and metabolic disorders, which are features of broiler production, and bone problems and injurious pecking, which are features of laying hen systems. The transport and slaughter of poultry are also considered, and information on avoiding or mitigating problems is provided.