Cage Free

Cage Free in Asia: three videos

24 min read published on 30 September 2021
cage free

As Vencomatic Group we like to share our knowledge about 'cage free' poultry. In the past few weeks, we were invited at virtual events in Asia.

Our colleague Simon McKenzie was invited to speak at the digital V-connect Exhibition on 23 September. On 17 September, our colleague Anne van den Oever spoke about 'cage free' at the Japanese 'Organic Expo'. Anne cooperated with professor Rodenburg, who gave a presentation about cage free housing systems.

Below you can find the three video's.

Video of Simon McKenzie at the V-Connect Exhibition

 

Cage free Simon McKenzie

 

Video of Anne van den Oever about 'cage free' at the Organic Expo

 

Cage free Anne van den Oever

 

Video of professor Rodenburg about 'cage free housing' at the Organic Expo

 

Cage free Bas Rodenburg

 

Below you will find the transcript of the video of Bas Rodenburg.

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Hello, my name is Bas Rodenburg
and I'm professor of Animal...

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...Welfare at the faculty of Veterinary,
Medicine of Utrecht University

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and I will present to you today
about cage-free systems for laying hens.

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I want to start with presenting
historical perspective and to...

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...tell a little bit about the
development of cage systems.

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After the second world war, there
was a strong focus on intensive and efficient food production,

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people never wanted to go hungry

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again, this led to the development
of intensive animal production systems,

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including the conventional cage
for laying hens in the Western world.

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This conventional cage system
resulted in a strong increase

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in egg production in a very efficient
way.

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However, already in the 1960s

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concerns about animal welfare were
voiced.

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This started with the
publication of the book 'Animal Machines' by Ruth Harrison.

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Later, this led to the start of the work
of the Brambell Committee in

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the UK,

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who published the Brambell report,
which listed the five freedoms...

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...that are important for
good animal welfare.

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Here on the right hand side at
the bottom, you can see a modern representation

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of the five freedoms.
Animals should have a good lifestyle, good nutrition, a good environment, good handling and good health.

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If we look at the cage system,
from the perspective of the five freedoms,

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we can see that behavior is too
restricted in cages, as birds...

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...are unable to nest, to perch,
to show foraging behavior, dust-bathing or to walk around.

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In Europe this led to a

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strong discussion on the future
of cage systems and also on the development

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of alternative systems: furnished
cages and cage-free systems.

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In the 1990s, this led to the
European Laying Hen Directive...

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...phasing out conventional cages
in the EU by 2012.

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From that year onwards, only
furnished cages and cage-free systems

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were allowed.

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So let's look at these systems in
a little more detail.

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Furnished cages in comparison with traditional
cages, laying hens,

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in furnished cages have more
space,

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750 instead of 550 square centimeters.

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If access to a perch, a nest and scratching
area and they are kept...

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...in larger groups than in conventional
cages.

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So typically, 20 to 60 birdcages instead
of 4 bird cages.

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Furnished cages also have challenges.

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They still have a relatively limited
space, especially if you

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think about all the different facilities
that you have to fit into the furnished cage,

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that make it quite challenging
to fit in to perches the feeder, the water,

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the nest and the scratching area.

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One of the main challenges in the
furnished cage is the litter...

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...supply, for dust-bathing
and for foraging ground pecking

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hens need something.

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on the floor to peck at,
to scratch.

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This remains very difficult
to supply in a furnished cage system.

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Also, the limited height is an issue.

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where resting birds can block
active birds when they are resting

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on the low perches

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and birds have to push each other
aside when they want to move through the cage.

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Cage-free systems,

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as you can see here in the pictures,
can be aviary systems...

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...or a floor housing or single-tier
system and they can have

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a free range or be without a free

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range, which will be indoor systems.

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Here on the top
right

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you see a single tier system or
floor housing system where...

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...the food and water is supplied
on the raised tear and the nests are there,

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the perches and on the outside
there is a

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large foraging area on the floor.

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On the bottom picture is an aviary
system where feed and water and...

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...nest and perches are provided
on the different tiers of the system. And also, again on the floor,

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there's the big litter area where
birds can show pecking and scratching and dust-bathing.

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They have more space than in the
furnished cage, over 1,000 square centimeters compared with the 750 in the furnished cage

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and are kept in large group sizes.
In the Netherlands, usually...

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...subgroups of 5000 to 6000
birds and then flocks of about 30,000 birds.

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But these numbers can vary between
countries.

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Also the cage free
system has challenges and this

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has mainly to do with the large group
size.

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You have thousands of birds
in one group.

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It's more difficult

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to control social problems,
things like feather pecking and cannibalism,

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which I will talk about in more
detail.

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Also smothering, where birds
pile up on top of each other

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and some birds may suffocate.

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In general it's more challenging
to keep an overview of the...

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...flock, because they are in a
large room and they can move everywhere.

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So it's also more difficult to
have attention for the individual bird.

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We see that the percentage of eggs
from cage systems is declining in the EU.

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You can see them here in this figure,
you can also see that there's

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a large variation between countries.

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Already in Germany, the Netherlands,
and Denmark, the majority of

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eggs comes from cage-free systems.

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In Spain, Poland, UK, France,
and Italy, the majority still

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comes from

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cage systems but you can also see
for instance in Spain that this

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is rapidly changing and that European
countries are changing towards

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cage-free production systems.

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This is also stimulated by initiatives
like 'ending the cage age'.

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There is quite a strong push in
Europe and in the US and in Australia,

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also to go cage free.

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In the EU

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a petition was launched 'end the cage age',

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which has been signed by over
1.4 million European citizens

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and has a strong push by NGO's in
Europe, it's also been embraced

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by the industry, indicating that
they want to use eggs from cage-free systems in their food production.

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And of course, this petition was
aimed at multiple

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farm animal species, including
pigs and rabbits and ducks. But for laying hens,

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there's already

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a viable alternative to cage housing:
the cage free systems.

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So it's likely that in the near
future, European legislation will change.

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And that a full cage pen for laying
hens will be

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decided upon.

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This is a recent map from a paper
by Shuck and Palm and colleagues,

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showing the percentage of cage-free
egg production in the world.

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Where red is the cage production,
and green is the cage-free production.

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You can see that in Europe, the
US and Australia, and also in parts of Africa,

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there's already quite a substantial
proportion of eggs used in cage-free

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systems.

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And also in other parts of the world,
it is starting to develop...

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...and the expectation is that
the map will become

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more green in in the near future.

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What about the management of laying
hens in cage-free systems? Well,

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we see that that cage free systems
clearly have the potential

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for better laying and welfare compared
to cage systems.

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The hens have more space

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they have litter available, for
foraging, for dust-bathing, high perches, good quality nests.

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So the the system really meets
their natural requirements.

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At the same as I said 'cage-free
systems are more difficult to manage', in this system

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it is more difficult to keep an
overview over the flock.

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There's a risk of social problems
such as feather pecking,

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and it's also important that the
flock really knows how to navigate the system.

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The system is also more complex

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for the birds to use, compared
to the cage environment.

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The bird needs to know how to go
up in the system.

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How to find the water, the feed, the
perches, the nests.

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What is incredibly important for successful
cage-free systems is also

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the link between rearing system
and laying system, that the

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rearing system closely matches
the laying system.

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So that pullets already learn how
to use the system and that

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they can use this knowledge in
the laying period.

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I want to go a little bit more
in depth in the issue of feather pecking and cannibalism.

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This is something we've also
studied in research projects. For instance,

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in the PHD project of Oscar de
Haas, where we studied relationships between

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behavior of the parent stock, of
the rearing flock, and of the laying flock,

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to look at

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how can we minimize the
risk of feather pecking in cage-free laying hens.

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So we started out from commercial
flocks of parent stock.

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You can see here in the picture,
a commercial brown egg laying

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parent stock with the white hens,
and the brown roosters, quite a high density system, single tier.

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This is a typical parent stock
housing system

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in the Netherlands, and there we
studied 20 different flocks: 10 brown and 10 white.

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From each parent stock flock,
we followed five rearing...

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...flocks and we followed them
into the laying period. So in total, 50 flocks,

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50 brown and 50 white flocks.

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we followed later in life. We
visited the parent stock at 40 weeks of age,

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and looked at fearfulness and at
plumage condition

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and studied, if these would be
predictive of feather pecking in the pullets, so

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in the offspring of these parents.

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What we found was that especially
in the white, we did not

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see this effect in the brown, but
in the white flocks, when we

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looked at flocks with high feather
damage and high basal, corticosteroid levels or high stress levels,

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we also found an increased risk
of severe feather pecking already...

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...developing early in the
pullets, in the offspring

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in the first week of life.

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So here you see the parent traits,

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so further damage stress hormone
levels or blood serotonin,

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and here you see the risk of feather
packing in the first week of...

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...life, the dotted lines are
the white leghorns.

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You can really see a clear relationship

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between stress in the parents and
feather pecking in the offspring.

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So that means that

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managing the parent stock in a
good way

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can already be an important method
to already

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reduce the risk of feather pecking
in the pullets and later in the laying hens. So from these parent stocks,

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we followed the rearing flocks
and we visited the rearing flocks at different ages: 1, 5, 10, and 15 weeks of age.

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We studied also feather pecking
in the pullets.

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You can see some systems here.

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This is a traditional aviary rearing
system.

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This is a system more like the
single tier where the litter area

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is on the outside and the different, the water

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and the feed can be raised there
on on platforms.

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If we look at the feather pecking,
we studied this at 1, 5 and 10 weeks,

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you can see a clear peak in feather
pecking around five weeks of age. This was gentle feather pecking, so

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this is not the worst type of feather
pecking: severe feather pecking.

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That's the more problematic type
and also there, we saw

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a slight peak at 5 weeks of age,
so this is clearly an age

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at which there is a risk
of feather pecking. And interestingly,

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this is also the age when we normally
release the birds from

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the rearing cages in the traditional
aviary at the bird, start

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in the cage and around five weeks
of age, they are set free into the system.

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What we saw was that
70% of the of the flocks

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had damage at 5 weeks of age. So
at this time, when there was

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a lot of feather pecking happening
had problems with litter supply.

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They did not have access

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to litter to peck at and to scratch.

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This is very important for
pullets, to reduce the risk of feather pecking. Well,

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in the parent stock we saw that
this was mainly a risk in the white leghorn birds

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with limited litter access.
We mainly saw that

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it was a risk in the brown

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hybrids so you can also see that
genotype plays

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a clear role in this.

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Here you see the limited flocks
that had a limitation in,

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litter supply and on the right hand
side

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no limitation little supply and
the yellow bars

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are the white flocks and the
brown bars are the brown flocks.

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You can see a clear increased risk
in severe feather pecking in the brown flocks

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if they did not have access to
litter around five weeks of age.

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Then we looked at
the combined data set of the...

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...parent stock and the rearing
flock.

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What are factors that are contributing
to feather damage in the laying flock?

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So in the adult phase of the birds,
when they are for instance

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in an indoor aviary system producing
eggs and then we were able to identify some risks.

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If we look at the risks associated
with increased feather damage at 40 weeks of age,

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we can see that both the early
life periods or the rearing periods,

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and the laying periods had effects
on the risk of feather damage.

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In the rearing period, already a
high level of severe feather

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pecking at a young age at five
weeks of age, was a risk factor for feather damage later in life.

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Also, a high fear of humans, in both
the brown and white, so flocks

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that are very fearful of humans,
you can easily measure that

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by standing in the flock and just
measuring how close birds will

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come and how long it will take
for birds to approach you,

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is an indicator of

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risk of feather damage later in
life.

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This might also have to do
with the human-animal relationship,

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where flocks that are more resilient
and that can cope with more changes in their environment,

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have a lower risk of developing
feather pecking.

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Also in the laying period

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00:16:50,400 --> 00:16:55,400
there were several risks that contributed
to feather damage,

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00:16:55,800 --> 00:17:00,100
we saw more feather damage in floor
housing systems, the single

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tear systems, than in aviary systems.

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We saw further damage in
larger group sizes, also

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flocks with more feather damage
were again more fearful of humans,

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also in the laying period
and we saw more feather damage...

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00:17:18,999 --> 00:17:23,001
...in cages in case there was no
modified management, that was

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00:17:24,500 --> 00:17:29,500
in 26 out of 35 flocks, there was
no modified management. In the

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00:17:29,500 --> 00:17:32,900
other flocks there was modified
management and this helped to...

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...reduce the risk of feather damage.

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00:17:35,100 --> 00:17:39,700
What do we mean by modified
management? Things like supplying...

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...roughage like alfalfa bales
or hay bales or straw bales, playing

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a radio in the house to make the
birds more accustomed to humans and human voices,

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supplying pecking blocks to
give the birds something to do. So really inspecting.

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00:17:57,000 --> 00:18:03,600
the flock looking at changes and
responding to to the flock if the flock needs something.

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00:18:05,400 --> 00:18:09,100
So to summarize, if we look at successful
management of cage-free

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flocks, genetics really clearly
play a role, where we see that white and brown strains

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show quite large differences and
the white strains may be more stress sensitive the brown strains,

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more sensitive to limitations in
litter supply

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00:18:26,500 --> 00:18:30,100
so also choose the most appropriate
strain for your system.

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00:18:30,900 --> 00:18:35,600
We see that the rearing period
is crucial. So, it's important

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00:18:35,600 --> 00:18:38,600
that pullets have something
to peck at, to have some litter...

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00:18:38,600 --> 00:18:42,500
...available that can already be
realized by just putting some

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00:18:42,500 --> 00:18:46,400
chick paper on the cage floor where
droppings can accumulate

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00:18:46,400 --> 00:18:49,700
and some feed can accumulate and
then already birds have something

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to do and to peck at, they have
to learn to navigate the three-dimensional environment.

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So that's important to have attention
for.

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00:18:59,300 --> 00:19:03,800
Fear of humans is a clear factor,
so think about managing...

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00:19:04,100 --> 00:19:09,400
...stress sensitivity, have a radio
in the house, have some diversity in your routines.

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00:19:09,700 --> 00:19:12,400
I've seen flocks where you can just
drive a tractor through...

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00:19:12,400 --> 00:19:17,500
...it and they are fine with that,
so that can be quite variable.

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00:19:19,300 --> 00:19:23,600
Also, think about the match between
the rearing and the laying environment, it's very important.

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00:19:25,300 --> 00:19:28,000
A laying hen farmer has
a very important role.

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00:19:28,200 --> 00:19:35,600
You need to be able to early detect
problems that are developing, consider modified management,

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00:19:35,700 --> 00:19:39,700
things like packing blocks, alfalfa
bales can also do that. At

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00:19:39,700 --> 00:19:42,600
the moment when you see something
changing in the flock, that

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00:19:42,600 --> 00:19:45,700
they also have something novel
then to peck at and to play with

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00:19:46,900 --> 00:19:54,200
that's really something people
have to obtain experience with. Litter supply is very important,

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00:19:54,200 --> 00:19:58,300
also in the laying period, that
birds have something to scratch

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00:19:58,300 --> 00:19:59,000
and to peck

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00:20:00,700 --> 00:20:05,100
and to be active. Also, their fear
of humans managing the stress

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00:20:05,100 --> 00:20:08,800
sensitivity of the flock is also
important in the laying phase.

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00:20:12,100 --> 00:20:16,400
A recent paper shows that good
management matters, and that in

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00:20:16,400 --> 00:20:21,000
all systems mortality can be reduced
and at a low level.

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00:20:22,100 --> 00:20:26,400
When the farmer is experienced
and knows how to manage the system

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00:20:26,400 --> 00:20:30,500
he is working with. This is a recent
paper by Shuck, Palm and

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00:20:31,000 --> 00:20:34,600
and colleagues, where they looked
at mortality in different systems.

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There you see that also in
aviary systems, the blue Line

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00:20:40,500 --> 00:20:45,600
in the top figure, mortality levels
are decreasing. Of course,

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00:20:45,600 --> 00:20:49,400
these systems have not been around
as long as cage systems,

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00:20:51,300 --> 00:20:53,600
but we do see that with

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00:20:54,800 --> 00:20:59,300
having more experience with the
system also mortality in the cage

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00:20:59,300 --> 00:21:04,700
free systems can be as low as in
furnished cage systems.

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00:21:07,400 --> 00:21:11,200
Also, there's a lot of advisory
materials out there, advisory

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00:21:11,200 --> 00:21:17,200
tools and there's a recent publication
from the EU platform on animal welfare.

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00:21:17,300 --> 00:21:20,200
It was a voluntary working group
on the welfare of pullets

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00:21:21,100 --> 00:21:25,400
formulating a guide on best management
practice for the welfare of pullets.

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00:21:26,000 --> 00:21:29,800
We have recently published a management
guide for the care and...

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00:21:29,800 --> 00:21:33,800
...housing of cage-free laying
hens in Vietnam, but it can also be

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00:21:34,900 --> 00:21:39,800
used more generally. And there's
also other examples of management guides out there,

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00:21:39,800 --> 00:21:43,800
also from industry partners from
breading companies

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00:21:44,800 --> 00:21:51,200
for instance, and also
companies that supply housing systems, the federal project

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00:21:51,200 --> 00:21:54,600
if you want to learn more about
preventing feather pecking and...

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00:21:54,600 --> 00:21:59,000
...improving feather cover, a very
practical guide from the UK.

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00:22:00,500 --> 00:22:06,100
So there's a lot of guidance out
there and I would encourage you to use that.

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00:22:06,200 --> 00:22:10,600
In the EU we are starting a
new project that's called 'best...

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00:22:10,600 --> 00:22:15,300
...practice hens', a pilot
project to support the transition

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00:22:15,300 --> 00:22:21,500
to cage-free systems for laying
hens that will run from 2021

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00:22:21,700 --> 00:22:23,300
until 2023.

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00:22:24,200 --> 00:22:27,400
There we will describe best practices
for the management of laying

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00:22:27,400 --> 00:22:29,300
hens in cage-free systems,

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00:22:31,100 --> 00:22:36,100
based on experiences from European
countries which already have a high percentage of cage

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00:22:36,300 --> 00:22:41,400
free housing systems, such as the
Netherlands, Germany, France

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00:22:41,400 --> 00:22:44,400
and Denmark and we will make this
knowledge available

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00:22:45,500 --> 00:22:48,900
to countries where the majority
of hens is still in cages,

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00:22:48,900 --> 00:22:54,000
and in that sense also support
the transition to cage-free housing systems.

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00:22:54,800 --> 00:22:58,200
And with that I would like to thank
you very much for your attention

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00:22:58,600 --> 00:23:03,300
and I'm open to any questions and
comments that you may have. Thank you.

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Edwin Vlems
Edwin Vlems is Marketing Manager at Vencomatic Group

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