The activist group Compassion Over Killing recently released an undercover video reportedly filmed at farms contracting with Tyson Foods in Virginia. The video shows activities of what may be Tyson employees and/or contract crews in broiler breeder pullet and layer houses.

As is typical of these videos, some of the footage appears to be staged. Early in the video, a worker explains verbally to the videographer/activist what not to do with the birds, but says not to do these things while performing the actions himself to make sure the activist/trainee knows what not to do. Clearly the activist tricked the worker into the demonstration of what not to do when handling chickens. Having said this, there is no excuse for some of the rough handling of birds shown in the video. Even if workers were encouraged by the activist, it isn’t acceptable.

This isn’t the first time activists have targeted crews handling breeder birds. A Butterball turkey breeder farm was a target a few years ago. Poultry producers need to rethink the kind of feedback that is given to crews that handle live birds at all stages of their operations and pay particular attention to areas where injury to birds doesn’t result in significant economic loss. That’s right, I said where improper handling doesn’t result in significant economic loss.

If broilers and young turkeys are handled roughly when being loaded or unloaded for processing, it shows up in the dead on arrival (DOA) or condemnation reports. I worked for companies that monitored damage to each individual flock prior to and after de-feathering and determined at what step in the process -- growing, loading or live hang -- the damage occurred. The load-out crews were apprised of the scores the flocks they picked up received and awards were made for the best-performing crew over a period of time.

Spent breeders, both broiler and turkey, sell for a fraction of the price of young birds and are generally not processed at the same plant as the young birds. I doubt that the same type of feedback systems exist to report on handling of spent breeders as exist for young birds. If they don’t exist, they should.

The saying we used to preach in our processing plants was, “what gets measured gets fixed.” Training is great, but it has to be reinforced with performance measurements. Any process that involves the handling and manipulation of live birds should have a system of monitoring and feedback in place. Every aspect of handling live birds from the breeder farm, hatchery, growing houses, and all the way to the processing plant should have quality checking and feedback systems in place. Training alone won’t ensure compliance.