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Gateway to poultry production and products

Animal welfare

Poultry welfare matters for both ethical and practical reasons. From an ethical perspective, poultry 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.

In intensive poultry systems, much progress has been made in recent decades in developing valid methods of measuring 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.

In extensive small-scale poultry systems in developing countries, birds are mainly from indigenous breeds and thus better able to cope with the local environment than commercial breeds. However, disease transmission is high, causing suffering and high mortality among birds. Other common welfare concerns are poor nutrition and lack of access to clean, cool water. In hot climates, birds may have difficulty staying cool unless natural or artificial shelter is provided.