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Stocking densities in broiler sheds best practice

Date: 26 May 2008
Review finds stocking densities in broiler sheds on a par with world best practice

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) has completed a review into the minimum standard that relates to maximum stocking densities in the 2003 Broiler Code of Welfare and has concluded that a change to the minimum standard is not required at this time. This conclusion is based in part on New Zealand research that found that the welfare of broiler chickens in New Zealand was on a par with world best practice.

NAWAC chairman, Peter O’Hara, says there was no evidence of compromised welfare that could be attributed to stocking density within the range of densities found in the project.

The research coupled with overseas research reports has enabled NAWAC to conclude that the management of environmental factors (temperature, humidity, noxious gas levels and litter quality) is the key to determining actual stocking density. Where management is good, a maximum density of 38kg liveweight per square metre is not associated with compromised welfare. NAWAC emphasises that the minimum standard in the Code specifies a maximum density.

``We are satisfied that the welfare of the birds can be maintained at an acceptably high level through good management and there are no scientifically sound reasons for abandoning it in favour of lower stocking densities or more extensive systems,’’ Dr O’Hara says.

NAWAC will now undertake a complete review of the Code with a view to converting all of the minimum standards to a form that describes the welfare outcomes that chickens are expected to achieve. Each outcome will be accompanied by one or more welfare indicators that enable the achievement of the outcome to be measured or assessed. The review is to be completed by November 2009.

The broiler industry has already made significant steps towards the measurement of welfare outcomes and the introduction of independent audits of compliance with Code’s minimum standards.

``NAWAC sees the full review of the code as an opportunity to examine whether the relationship between management factors and welfare outcomes requires further elaboration.’’


Background Information:
The Broiler Code of Welfare 2003 code includes the following statement by NAWAC:

There are no published studies of the incidence of welfare problems in the New Zealand broiler industry. Further, there is no published information for New Zealand production on broiler behaviour, on the status of the key environmental parameters (such as air and litter quality and temperature/humidity) which influence broiler welfare, or on the relationship of such measures to changes in stocking density. NAWAC recognises the research and development, and the commercial trials, that are being conducted internationally with respect to stocking densities, and that they may have relevance to the New Zealand broiler industry. However, before any changes can be introduced, there needs to be independently driven research and development carried out in New Zealand conditions.

Accordingly, NAWAC strongly recommends that such research and development be initiated and completed five years of the issue of this code. NAWAC will review the maximum stocking density noted in this minimum standard and any other related issues, no later than five years from the issue of this code.

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