Animal welfare programs for the broiler industry and the audits that measure performance to these standards were adopted to address consumer and activist concerns regarding how the birds are raised and handled, according to Dr. Karen Christensen, associate professor and extension specialist, University of Arkansas. She told the audience of the webinar, Responding to consumer demand with nutrition solutions, sponsored by Novus, that as the National Chicken Council animal welfare program has had its measurable standards raised or tightened, the industry’s performance has improved.

Importance of audits

Christensen, who previously worked as director of technical services for OK Foods, said that audits play a crucial role in continuous improvement programs, because they provide producers with a “score card.” Audits identify areas that require additional effort or training and they also provide a “bridge” to customers and consumers that help build confidence in a producer’s welfare program.

There are three types of audits that can be performed, and Christensen said that they can each play a role in continuous improvement. First-party audits are internal audits that identify areas that need improvement. She said that first-party audits can provide teaching/training opportunities as well as allowing for a means for tracking improvements.

In a second-party audit, the auditor comes from outside the poultry company, but the auditor still has an “interest” in the audit’s outcome. An audit conducted by a customer’s quality assurance personnel is an example of a second-party audit.

An audit performed by an independent auditor is referred to as a third-party audit. The auditor is not a consultant; what third-party auditors provide is a “snapshot” view of the operation at that point in time. The National Chicken Council’s animal welfare program requires third-party auditing.

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Welfare and bird performance

Dr. Pat Welch, technical service, Novus, discussed the control of foot pad dermatitis, which is one of the measurable bird welfare criteria found in broiler welfare programs. He said that controlling moisture levels in the house is critical for preventing high ammonia levels which will lead to foot pad problems. Welch shared in detail some litter management techniques for reducing ammonia production. He presented research data which shows how flocks with greater levels of foot pad dermatitis also had more breast blister issues, hock burns, poorer gait scores and had higher whole bird and parts condemnation rates.

Welch said that managing broiler houses to reduce rates of foot pad dermatitis does more than just improve bird welfare. It also yields better performance. He said that better growth rates, feed conversions and lower condemnation rates can be expected when foot pad issues are reduced. Foot pad dermatitis control is just one example of how improving performance on bird welfare indicators will also improve bird performance and yield greater financial returns.