Vaccination, bio-security and hygiene play a large role in maintaining a healthy flock. Poultry diseases are often caused by viruses and can cause devastating damage to a poultry industry; because viruses are very hard to treat industry has taken the stance that prevention is better than a cure and comprehensive vaccination programs are undertaken. In the case of bacterial infections where vaccination is not an option and all other treatment options have failed, growers may seek the advice of veterinarians and antibiotics may be administered. In all cases where a medicinal products are administered strict guide lines are followed to ensure the highest industry standard.
The conditions under which meat chickens are housed and the way in which they are managed during their growing, transportation and slaughter are set down in several government/industry endorsed Model Codes of Practice designed to safeguard their welfare.
The industry has developed a model animal welfare audit program, which covers hatchery, breeder rearing, breeder laying, growing, and the pick-up, transport and processing sectors. Several companies have incorporated elements of this welfare audit in their own quality plans. All companies incorporate elements of good practice for bird welfare in their grower manuals.
High standards of bird welfare and high levels of flock performance and economic performance are not incompatible – quite the contrary, they go hand in hand. It simply makes good economic sense as well as being in the bird’s best interests to ensure that flocks are maintained in an environment, in which they are thermally comfortable, protected from injury, fed optimally and kept healthy.
Therefore, all measures described elsewhere to ensure that chickens are kept in conditions which optimise their comfort (in terms of temperature, humidity, air flow and air quality), in which they are provided with water, shelter, and a high quality diet that exactly matches their physiological needs. These factors which optimise their health have just as important effect in terms of bird welfare as they do on the overall efficiency of the farming operation.
When producing chicken meat in a welfare-friendly manner it is also important that the birds receive prompt and appropriate medication and treatment should it become necessary it is also imperative to ensure that they do not suffer any unnecessary pain, distress, fear or physical injury. Sick or injured birds that cannot be adequately or successfully treated are culled quickly and in a humane manner so that they do not suffer. While the chickens are reared specifically for human consumption and they therefore at some stage have to be slaughtered, the industry is mindful that they should be slaughtered in a humane manner, and all birds are stunned rendering them insensible to pain prior to slaughter.
Industry has three strong motives for looking after the birds in their care in a welfare-friendly manner:
- Out of respect for the birds themselves, so they do not suffer.
- So that they grow as well and efficiently as possible and they are not damaged in the process.
- In recognition and respect of the consumer, retailer and community attitudes and expectations with respect to the humane treatment of livestock farmed specifically for consumption.