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Animal welfare issues have never been in vogue as they are today. Particularly because of the consumer’s concern about the origin and quality of food. This includes animal products such as eggs.
Thus, it is natural to think that the way layers are raised directly impacts the performance of their business. But what exactly contributes to animal welfare? What are the requirements or measures for poultry producers to ensure that the birds are receiving the necessary care?
To help answer these questions, we talked to the agricultural engineer Juliana Pereira, a specialist in poultry and Animal Welfare and who has been working in the field of alternative poultry farming for 14 years.
The term Animal Welfare (AW) designates the physical and mental state of an animal in relation to the conditions in which it lives and, also, in which it dies. According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), an animal experiences well-being when it is healthy, comfortable, well fed, safe and not suffering from unpleasant sensations.
For this to be real, we need to focus on disease prevention and promote appropriate veterinary care, as well as shelter, management and nutrition, a stimulating and safe environment, humane handling and slaughter.
The 5 Animal Welfare Standards
For the OIE, Animal Welfare standards should be measured based on the 5 freedoms experienced by animals.
- Free from fear and anguish;
- Free from pain, suffering and disease;
- Free from hunger and thirst;
- Free from discomfort;
- Free to express your natural behavior.
This means that AW is closely linked to the performance of innate, “normal” or inherent animal behaviors that are necessary to avoid stress — in addition to being pleasurable.
Regarding the birds, the natural behavior is to bathe in the sand (dust), perch, scratch, flap, nest (build a nest) and explore the environment. The freer they are to do it, the better their Animal Welfare. Therefore, the cage-free production system, that is, “cage-free”, is the practice that is most closely linked to the AW precepts because all the natural birds’ behaviors are made possible.
Even so, in cases where it is not feasible to follow this system, it is also possible – and fundamental – to adopt measures to improve the conditions of birds in cages. Agricultural engineer Juliana Pereira gives details of the practice below.
How to improve the living conditions of layers in cages?
There are measures that are valid for the AW for both cage and cage-free production. They include providing feed and water in adequate quantity and quality, according to the chicken’s age — the feeding must be divided into 3 times a day, and the water must be fresh and drinkable, suitable for human consumption.
Thermal comfort is another point of attention, because heat stress results in a drop in feed consumption, lower growth rate, higher water consumption, heart rate acceleration, change in feed conversion, drop in egg production, higher incidence of eggs with thin shells and even bird death.
What to do to avoid heat stress? Juliana emphasizes that it is necessary to monitor the temperature in the house; keep the bird’s water tank in a shaded place; have fans and fogging system in the house; observe the bird’s behavior and perform flushing at the drinkers.
“On the other hand, to reduce the risk of cold stress, it’s important to keep the curtains up, especially for prevailing winds; increase the supply of feed by grammage; change the feed formula; use lamps or heaters; observe the bird’s behavior and take care that no mortality due to overcrowding occurs”, explains the agricultural engineer.
To improve living conditions in cages, it is also important to provide adequate light management, pay attention to air quality and promote biosecurity programs.
Provide proper light management
The photoperiod over the seasons directly interferes with egg production. In order to the birds are not susceptible to this variation, it is necessary to use a lighting program.
The first 3 days of life should have 24 hours of light. From the 4th day of life, it is necessary to remove one per week until reaching 14 hours of light/day. It should reach 14 hours of light/day maximum until the birds are 10 weeks old. Thereafter, birds should no longer notice any photoperiod change.
Ventilation systems—natural or mechanical—must be designed to maintain air quality parameters under all foreseeable weather conditions.
Ammonia at bird height should be less than 10 ppm and should not exceed 25 ppm, except for brief periods of severe, rigorous weather. Carbon dioxide levels must be less than 3000 ppm and must not exceed 5000 ppm. Carbon monoxide must be less than 10 ppm and must not exceed 50 ppm.
There must be a program for cleaning and disinfecting the house, restricting people’s access and establishing a sanitary void for visitors and for the flock.
In addition, the necessary measures include pest control (rodents, flies and small beetles), preventing other animals from entering the house, correctly disposing of dead birds and having a vaccine program in line with the health challenge of the region.
The benefits of probiotics for Animal Welfare
Juliana advises that, currently, the AW protocols available on the market prohibit the use of antibiotics as preventatives, enhancers or growth promoters.
This is because the use of these substances for these purposes goes against the animal’s natural physiology — and is often used to correct management errors. The use of antibiotics is only foreseen for occasional treatments, that is, when the birds are in fact sick.
“Opting for probiotics as preventives and curatives totally replaces the use of antibiotics. They contribute to improving the intestinal microbiota and strengthening the animal’s immune system, especially when we think about enteric diseases. They can also be used in organic animal production”, says Juliana.
Probiotics are beneficial live microorganisms that help keep the intestinal microbiota of poultry in balance. Therefore, they confer benefits to the immunity of layer hens by improving the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract and preventing pathogenic microorganisms.
For Juliana, some options should be used continuously as prevention, while others in cases of health challenges.
Which probiotics to use for AW in layer hens?
Powdered probiotics applied in feed, such as Colostrum® Bio21 Mix, are ideal for continuous use. In case of stressful managements or challenges, they can be used in larger doses.
Colostrum® Bio21 Mix enables the beneficial bacteria introduced by the product to colonize all intestinal segments of the chickens. Therefore, they fight pathogens such as Salmonella spp., pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli, Clostridium perfringens, among others, which cause illnesses and reduced performance.
On the other hand, liquid probiotics are used in the hatchery via spray, on the first day of life. Colostrum® Bio21 Liquid is indicated to promote the intestinal health of chickens through colonization/recolonization of the microbiota, control enteric diseases such as salmonellosis, clostridiosis and colibacillosis and help to obtain improvements in the zootechnical performance of chickens.
Periodic use in case of stressful managements can be applied to layers regardless of the rearing system: in cages or not in cages.