Egg Industry and its readers investigated how to prevent cannibalism in brown-feathered laying flocks housed in broiler breeder units with slats and litter.
Four recommendations for prevention include:
1. Rearing flocks must be given the opportunity to perch using either A-frames or suspended tubular perches.
2. Flocks must be “walked” at least three times per day during rearing so they become accustom to workers. The program of stimulation should continue after transfer at approximately 17 weeks through peak production. In general the problems of aggression and vent peck are more severe in houses fitted with mechanical nests compared to manual collection due to less human contact associated with egg collection.
3. It is essential to trim beaks to limit aggression and subsequent injury. Various programs are used including an initial treatment at the hatchery followed by removal of 2 mm to 4 mm of mandibular (lower) and maxillary (upper) beak tissue at 12 weeks of age or alternatively, precision beak trimming at 7 to 10 days using an appropriate template followed by a second “tipping” from 10 to 12 weeks of age. Severe beak trim before 10 weeks of age is not advisable, as this will retard skeletal development resulting in a pullet with a compact frame which is less desirable in terms of persistence and egg mass.
Proposed “welfare” regulations relating to production of organic eggs disallow beak trim other than at the hatchery or at 7 to 10 days. In the absence of appropriate uniform and effective beak treatment, outbreaks of cannibalism will occur and affectively preventing trimming is contrary to the dual goals of improving welfare and enhancing productivity of flocks.
4. Light intensity should be controlled by replacing high-efficiency sodium lamps, favored for broiler breeder production, with 15-20 watt compact fluorescent bulbs which result in a light intensity under 3 foot candles at the center of the house. Some broiler breeder units in which aggression and vent peck are observed show light readings in excess of 25 foot candles.
It is hoped that the realities of practical flock husbandry will be recognized by panels of academics setting standards for management of flocks. Their recommendations should incorporate a realistic appraisal of the commercial situation and not be based only on the results of limited-scale trials conducted in Europe and blanket adoption of European standards.