Third-party animal welfare programs and pledges may be making headlines, but they may not be making changes on the majority of poultry farms just yet.

As part of the quarterly WATT/Rennier Poultry Confidence Index survey, WATT Global Media is asking additional questions about the state of the industry as well as emerging trends, technologies and challenges. This blog post reflects the results of supplemental questions included in the June 2018 survey. The next installment of Dr. Greg Rennier’s column reflecting the results of this quarter’s survey will be published in the August issue of WATT PoultryUSA.

Using enrichments, natural light in broiler housing

The domestic and international poultry industry is under increasing pressure to modify its husbandry methods in an effort to elevate animal welfare. One such modification is the addition of so-called engagements which are apparatuses installed in poultry housing to stimulate animals and allow them to express natural behaviors. Some third-party animal welfare systems call for inclusion of these engagements. 

When asked: “Are you currently using enrichments in your broiler housing? Enrichments should be considered items such as windows for natural light and structures designed to engage the animals.”

  • 22.1 percent responded, “Yes.”
  • 25.6 percent responded, “It's being considered but it's not decided.”
  • 52.3 percent responded, “No.”

In March 2018, this survey asked whether the respondents consider these engagements useful in improving flock performance. Only 18 percent said they are helpful.

International trade

Trade conflicts between the U.S. and its trade partners are escalating under the stewardship of President Donald Trump. In June 2018, the US and China escalated what is being called a trade war that could potentially affect the domestic and global agrarian economy. There are continuing overtones of economic conflict with key trading partners like Mexico, Canada and members of the European Union. Moreover, the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement is still in question as negotiations surrounding the trilateral pact continue ahead of summer elections in Mexico and fall elections in the U.S.

When asked, “How do you rate the Trump Administration's handling of international trade issues impacting the poultry business and agriculture as a whole?”

  • 23.40 percent responded, “Strongly approve.”
  • 21.30 percent responded, “Approve.”
  • 8.50 percent responded, “Slightly approve.”
  • 11.70 percent responded, “Neither approve nor disapprove.”
  • 7.40 percent responded, “Slightly disapprove.”
  • 18.1 percent responded, “Disapprove.”                
  • 9.6 percent responded, “Strongly disapprove.”

Resource-based versus outcome-based welfare standards

Moving away from resource-based welfare standards to outcome-based standards allows poultry producers to experiment and innovate while pursuing continuous improvement. Outcome-based standards require evaluation of the physical condition of the birds. For broilers and turkeys, it’s possible to conduct flock evaluations at the processing plant and reduce additional bird handling on the farm.

These evaluations can be used to access bird condition and determine where and when in the production process – in the growing house, during catching, during unloading or hanging, during stunning, scalding or picking – the damage to the bird occurred.

When asked, “Which statement best describes your company’ process for monitoring bird condition at the processing plant to attribute the source (for example growing, loadout, live hang, picker or scalder) of carcass damage and downgrades, such as broken wings, bruises, breast blisters, paw burns/swelling or scratches.”        

  • 37.6 percent responded, “We use an in-house evaluation system.”
  • 12.9 percent responded, “We use an industry benchmarking system.”
  • 17.6 percent responded, “We evaluate flocks using third-party auditing standards.”       
  • 1.2 percent responded, “We are considering formalizing a system to monitor these issues.”
  • 30.6 percent responded, “This issue is not a concern.”