Hatchery, Rearing, Laying, Broiler
Chickens are reared in large purpose-built houses on deep litter of chopped straw and wood shavings. They are reared from a day old until their weight reaches around 2kg in about 40 days. In preparation for the arrival of the new chicks, all old litter used by the previous flock will have been removed and the whole house thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Like most newly born warm blooded animals, chicks are sensitive to cold and infection. So they are gently removed from the trays and placed on the new litter under heat lamps (brooders) to keep them warm. As they grow they roam and forage throughout the house, eating and drinking as they wish.
The housing and equipment (ventilation, drinkers and feeders), and the feed itself are designed to meet the birds environmental and nutritional needs. The birds are given a healthy, scientifically formulated diet, clean water, a comfortable temperature and fresh air in well lit surroundings, with good space for movement, all of which benefit their welfare. Good stockman ship is fundamental. Trained personnel inspect the birds in the house every day, usually checking three times. They walk the entire length of the floor, up and down, inspecting the birds in all parts of the house, using their training and experience to pick out any birds which require attention.
Strict hygiene control (bio·security) is a key part of all poultry farming with stringent procedures in place throughout the life of the flock to prevent or control any disease entering the flock. Infection and disease can be carried into the house by stockmen and visitors, by rodents and wild birds and by contaminated feed or water. All these potential routes must be controlled. Houses and equipment are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected once the birds have been taken to the processing plant and the litter removed, before the new flock of day old chicks are placed. Further information is available from the British Poultry Council.
Bird Welfare & Food Safety
British poultry companies produce wholesome food to the highest standards of safety and quality. Most poultry meat is produced by large integrated companies which own and control all links in the production chain, from the parent breeder farms, through processing, to the delivery of the finished chicken packs to the retailer. This means a very short food chain with full traceability and consistency of controls. The poultry meat sector does not receive any UK or EU government subsidies but depends entirely on producing food that people want to buy. Food safety and quality are key to companies business survival and great effort and resources are devoted to them. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles are widely followed in British poultry processing plants and on poultry farms and feed mills. Most chicken in the UK is now farmed under the stringent requirements of the Assured Chicken Production Scheme.
Strict hygiene control programmes on farms, for lorries, and in processing plants have succeeded in substantially reducing food poisoning bacteria such as Salmonella, in particular Salmonella Enteriditis and Salmonella Typhimurium, in poultry over the last few years. Underpinning companies own HACCP and quality control programmes is a raft of EU and UK food safety related regulations covering rearing, transport, slaughter, and processing. All processing plants must be licensed and must comply with standards of construction, operational hygiene and staff hygiene laid down in Regulations. Regulations require independent Official Veterinary Surgeons (OVS) and poultry meat inspectors from the Food Standards Agency to be present in plants and on the processing line for the whole time the plants are operating. The OVS supervises the official health and welfare checks of all live birds entering the plant, the stunning and slaughter process, and the hygiene and food safety inspections of the poultry for health marking. The OVS also inspects the plant itself. Companies own staff who have been trained by the OVS and certified by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, may assist and form part of the official inspection team. Various regulations cover all aspects of poultry meat production including grading standards, wrapping and packaging, weights, labelling, temperature, transport and storage conditions. Regulations require regular official testing of poultry meat and also of poultry feed to detect any traces of residues of veterinary products which might have been administered to the birds on the farm. The results of this extensive residue testing programme are published quarterly by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Very small, mainly seasonal processing plants are regulated and inspected by local authorities. The whole poultry production chain, from the farms and feed mills to the finished poultry meat products leaving the processing plants, is subject to independent examination and auditing either under the sector’s own assurance schemes, or under official regulatory inspection and testing programmes with published results. This adds up to the highest level of assurance and transparency of safe and wholesome poultry meat for UK consumers.