Monday, March 25, 2013

Worming free range hens

A drop in egg production or increased mortality in a flock is a clear indication of a farm management problem affecting bird health. Often the first thought is a disease such as Infectious Bronchitis, but frequently the problem can be intestinal worms.

A build up of worm eggs on free range paddocks which have been in operation for a number of years can be very significant, and the cycle needs to be broken by good paddock rotation, including resting paddocks for several months before introducing a new flock..

Worm infestations have been thought to be rather seasonal but in temperate parts of Australia, worms present a potential year round problem.

Depending on the type of intestinal worms, the bird's gut can be severely damaged, restricting egg production, causing loss of body weight and death.

There is likely to be poor feed conversion and affected birds may look unhealthy, with runny manure and pale or drooping combs

Affected hens are at risk of egg peritonitis and secondary gut problems involving bacterial infections. In cases involving many birds in the flock, production can be hit very severely as the hens are unable to utilise all of the nutrients in their feed.. Egg quality is likely to decline, particularly yolk colour with a reduction in egg size as well as loss of shell colour and strength.

There is also an increased risk of vent pecking which may lead to cannibalism.

The diet you use needs to be a well balanced ration, especially with an adequate supply of vitamins A and the B complex. A deficiency in these has been shown to increase susceptibility to parasitism.

Three main types of worms cause problems in free range hens. Roundworms and Hairworms affect the duodenum and small intestine, Hetarakis worms affect the caeca.

Roundworms (Ascaridia galli)

These are the largest and most common of the chicken intestinal worms and can completely block the intestines. Worms are white with adults up to 2 inches long which can be easily seen in droppings.

Hairworms (Capillaria)

Hairworms are small and just visible. These worms are capable of causing severe damage to the intestine even in small numbers. Hairworm infection can be identified by examining faecal material under the microscope or looking at intestinal material from birds submitted for post mortem.

Caecal worms (Hetarakis gallinarum)

Hetarakis worms spend most of their time in the caeca. The worms themselves often cause no obvious problem but their significance is that they can carry another parasite (Histomonas) into the bird. Histomonas is the cause of Blackhead which can cause deaths in free range flocks.

Chickens become infected with worms by picking up worm eggs from their surroundings. This may be from within the shed or from soil, grass or faecal material on the range. Worm eggs are resistant to disinfectants and the normal cleaning and disinfection programme used in poultry sheds between flocks does not remove all worm eggs. A new flock of pullets may be exposed to worm eggs as soon as they arrive, both in the shed and out on the pasture.

Monitoring bird health is important. You need to be aware of signs of listlessness in the hens and regular inspection of droppings is important. If you suspect a problem, talk to your vet.

It is useful to examine the gut of any dead birds (either do it yourself if you have an idea what you are looking for or ask your vet to do a post mortem).

Good paddock rotation, with lengthy rest periods between flocks is the most effective worm control program but worming is also important. If you don't want to use chemicals, cider vinegar in the water, access to plants which are vermifuges (for exmple Wormwood or Garlic) and mixing diatomaceous earth in feed can help to control internal worm infestations.

The area closest to a fixed shed is always a high risk area for build up of worms and other pathogens, which is one reason for the populartity of mobile chicken sheds.

The UV rays in sunlight are the best killer of worm eggs.

Understand the worm risk on your farm and include a worm monitoring and control strategy in your animal health plan.

For anyone who wants to see post mortem training videos, have a look at:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Beak trimming ban in UK

A ban on beak trimming free range hens in the United Kingdom was due to come into force in 2011 but was put off on the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Council because of concerns about feather pecking and cannibalism. The British Government has warned that it intends to introduce the ban in 2016.

Considerable work on husbandry methods which can be adopted to control feather pecking and cannib...alism has been carried out by the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.

Trials have also been underway for a couple of years by Professor Christine Nicol and her team at the University of Bristol. She has said that it is possible to manage hens with intact beaks in commercial flocks without problems.

Here in Australia, there are many commercial free range farms operating without the need to beak trim their hens. As long as the chickens are not over-crowded and have plenty of pasture, there is seldom a problem with injurious feather pecking.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Approval for massive 'free range' farm in WA

The Shire of Gingin in WA has approved a plan for a 'free range' poultry farm with 360,000 birds at Wanerie, west of Gingin.

In February Gingin council approved a proposal from AAA Eggs to establish the massive egg farm, subject to strict conditions, including annual odour reports .

The 200ha site is 37km northeast of Gingin townsite.

The council considered the proposal a number of times and requested more information, before referring the case to the State Administrative Tribunal.

Most of the local concerns were about amenity, in particular odour control. Annual odour reporting and the establishment of a community stakeholder group are included in the permit conditions.

AAA is WA's biggest egg producer and already has a production facility in Gingin Shire.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Coles' standard unlikely to get through

The new Coles' free range standard of 10,000 hens per hectare may follow the same fate as the AECL's pathetic attempt to launch its 20,000 per hectare standard.  This is from today's The Age:

Supermarket Coles’ new standard for freerange eggs looks set to run foul of the national consumer watchdog with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission declaring that eggs produced at intensive farms do not deserve the label "free range’’.

While not commenting directly on Coles whose new free-range standard is 10,000 hens per hectare, almost a seven-fold reduction in space from the voluntary guidelines ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said the watchdog believed 10,000 hens per hectare was not consistent with consumers’ understanding of free range.

Ms Court said the commission was very concerned "the egg industry was trying to redefine free range to increase their own profitability’’ without regard to consumers’ views. The ACCC is concerned about "the redefinition of what is meant by free range by industry to suit itself, and the fact that the redefinition has the very real potential of misleading consumers,’’ she said.

The egg industry is spending millions of dollars renovating caged-hen facilities and building new state-of-the-art intensive freerange systems to meet Coles’ new standard.

Industry sources expect Woolworths and Aldi will follow Coles’ standard if it is accepted by the community and regulators such as the ACCC leading to a redefinition of free range in Australia.

Coles says its standard which allows free-range farmers to run sheds of 30,000 hens is the only way to deliver affordable eggs to consumers. The supermarket chain says it is drawing a line in the sand after the industry admitted it had been running freerange hens at densities of 50,000.

In response to the ACCC’s comments, Coles spokesman Jim Cooper said: Our stocking density is far better than most of Australia’s free-range egg production, which typically comes from farms running at double or even triple the stocking density that Coles allows.’’

Fairfax Media revealed on Monday that Animals Australia and the RSPCA, previously supportive of Coles’ efforts to improve its egg range had questioned whether eggs from intensive free-range systems could be called free range.

Monash economics professor and former ACCC member Stephen King said without a legally enforceable free-range code, Coles had done nothing wrong. But the ambiguity over free range was a government failure’’.

We certainly agree that the current fiasco is a government failure which demonstrates that 'truth in labelling' legislation must be a high priority. We also hope that the ACCC will launch some prosecutions against egg producers who have been scamming their customers for years.

The end game for Coles is easy. Simply call their high density system 'cage free' as they state in their advertising. Don't try to con consumers that this is 'free range'.

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Coles 'free range' standard under scrutiny

The Age and other Fairfax paper ran a couple of articles today about the new Coles 'free range' standard and here's a video clip on the Fairfax site.

Tell us what you think!