New poultry code of practice drafted

The new code offers more specifics about raising birds

Under the new guidelines, broilers and turkeys will get a four-hour dark period per day to help them sleep.

A proposed new code of practice for the Canadian feather industry doesn’t contain many changes but it does get a lot more specific about how to raise poultry.

Besides offering guidance, the new code outlines detailed requirements and recommended practices for the care and handling of broiler chickens, turkeys, breeders and hatching eggs.

It goes into much greater depth than the current code about acceptable management practices, especially humane treatment.

For example, the current code says handling should be done humanely but the proposed new code gives detailed guidance about acceptable methods and how to perform them.

“I think it has taken a much more formalized approach. That’s really the biggest change,” said Phil Boyd, executive director for Turkey Farmers of Canada.

The draft poultry code is the latest revision by the National Farm Animal Care Council for its codes of practice covering the care and handling of farm animals. The pig code was recently revised. Codes for bison, layers, rabbits and veal calves are currently under revision. (Layers have a separate code from other poultry.)

A public comment period for the poultry code, launched October 5, ends December 4. The proposed revision is led by a 15-person committee, which includes producers, animal welfare representatives, processors, transporters, researchers, veterinarians and government. The current code dates back to 2003.

Vern Froese, a Manitoba Chicken Producers director who sits on the committee, said the new code goes into much more detail than the previous one but it does not recommend huge changes in poultry production.

“I think producers are well prepared for the new code. It’s not that much different from the old one,” said Froese, who farms near Grunthal.

One new change, if adopted, will require a four-hour dark period per day for broilers and turkeys. This helps them to sleep and develop 24-hour day/night rhythms which promote growth rates and general health.

Froese said many broiler producers are already doing that and the new practice will not require any great adjustment.

“I don’t think it will be difficult for producers at all.”

Unlike some other livestock sectors, poultry does not have hot-button issues such as battery cages for layers and gestation stalls for pregnant sows, which arouse public concerns about animal welfare. Broilers and turkeys in Canada are raised almost exclusively in free-run environments.

Controversial practices in the United States, such as neutering roosters and controlled moulting of birds, are rare in Canada, although the code does refer to them.

As a result, poultry mostly tend to fly below the radar when it comes to matters involving humane practices.

But Steve Leech, national program manager for Chicken Farmers of Canada, said it’s important to have a code of practice to demonstrate standards the industry follows. Leech said the new code represents a “huge shift” in spelling out requirements and recommended practices for raising poultry.

“The code is what’s held up in a court of law, really. So when we have these requirements and recommended practices, it becomes that much more important and necessary to follow them because that’s what the industry will be judged against,” Leech said.

Codes of practice are reflected in both the turkey and broiler food safety and flock care programs.

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