Beak tipped hen at 72 weeks
Non-tipped hen at same age
The NFU, in its manifesto, is urging the next government to allow the continuation of beak tipping to ensure that the UK’s high standards of layer hen welfare are maintained.
Beak tipping is the best tool available to reduce the likelihood of outbreaks of injurious feather pecking and cannibalism in laying flocks. The government currently has a commitment to ban beak tipping from 2016.
Beak tipping is a procedure carried out on day-old chicks using infra-red light and it has been developed in response to the need to provide a modern, up to date and accurate solution to the necessity to reduce the sharp point of a hens’ beak which, if left untreated, can be used as a very unpleasant weapon to inflict pain and suffering on other hens.
Research, carried out by University of Glasgow, concluded that infra-red beak tipping of day old chicks does not result in chronic adverse consequences for nerve function, nor does it demonstrate evidence of chronic pain associated with this procedure. Prior to the development of the infra-red light treatment, beak tipping was carried out with the use of a hot-blade. Beak trimming is not ‘de-beaking’ - the hens’ beak is not removed.
The importance of beak trimming has increased as the size of the UK’s free range flock has increased to nearly half of the total. Aggressive feather pecking and cannibalism can be more prevalent among free range birds than those housed in enriched cages. The University of Bristol are carrying out trials on 20 free range flocks to determine if untrimmed birds can be managed effectively to prevent an outbreak of injurious feather pecking.
Duncan Priestner, NFU Poultry Board Chairman said: “Anecdotal evidence tells us that one of the trial flocks has had over 40% mortality and the birds had to be emergency hot bladed – which is a stressful procedure in adult birds, particularly birds that are already in a stressful state.
“Beak tipping costs producers approximately 3.5p per bird and is a cost that we feel is needed to protect our birds against an outbreak of injurious feather pecking.
“The egg sector is working hard towards the goal of being able to manage birds without the need to beak tip, however at this moment in time a ban would be detrimental to bird welfare.”