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Welfare is paramount and practicality is key to veterinarian egg producer

The Housing Order has brought free-range hens inside

Veterinarian and farmer Bridget Goscomb, together with her husband John, runs a progressive farm business with practical and profitable welfare at the fore. Sitting on the edge of the Exmoor, Sindercombe Farm is home to a mix of beef, sheep and, most recently, layers.

“Our passion for poultry started with raising turkeys for Christmas a number of years ago. We do what we enjoy but also fundamentally what works for our whole system,” comments Goscomb. “We started egg production around ten years ago when contracts were available. One benefit of many to mention, is that poultry manure is a great fertiliser for our forage ground”.

The flock of ‘Olives’ produce green-coloured free-range eggs for Waitrose.

“We are small, we are niche, and we seek profitability through doing what we do well. We are not too proud or shy to tap into all the expertise, information and technology that is out there and around us. In fact, our mobile sheds are made by a neighbour we can see across the fields! We are active to listen to feeding and veterinary advice, and follow it”, says Goscomb.

She passionately believes that welfare goes hand-in-hand with achieving and advancing production profitability. “Welfare is innate and paramount to us. It is our core belief and our top priority. If we don’t have good welfare, we don’t have good production. And if we don’t have good production we are out of business. It is as simple as that, not just for us, but for everyone in the sector. We work incredibly hard, and we therefore have to be proud of what we do and how we do it.”

“The topic of welfare can be frustrating when we are prescribed new, and sometimes, unrealistic standards. We producers need to be setting the standards. We are welfare-conscious and also have the practical understanding,” Goscomb advises. “Avian Influenza is serious, and whilst the latest Housing Order is bringing about many challenges, it is absolutely what we have to do to protect our birds and our sector”.

Effects of the housing order on welfare

“Since the Housing Order came in and our birds too, I’m relieved to say that our flock has remained relatively happy given the circumstances. We installed Alltech’s pecking blocks around 10 months ago to help enhance the welfare of our birds. I’d say they have since played a vital role in keeping the birds as entertained and as calm as possible since the Housing Order came in,” says Goscomb. “The hens really do love them, and they interact with them very well. When we first put the pecking blocks in the sheds, the birds sang and purred!”

Adam Platt, regional poultry sales manager for Alltech UK, has been working with Goscomb, among other producers to perfect the newly launched pecking block over the last number of months.

“We have seen the Natu-Pek pecking block play a significant role in mitigating the challenges of the current Housing Order, as it is both practical to use and highly-attractive to the birds,” says Platt. “Producers face great difficulty keeping flocks from injurious pecking when their routine is radically changed, so the pecking block is a welcome distraction that they can focus on, rather than other birds.”

6 stress indicators to watch for in your flocks

  1. Feather sucking or pulling
  2. Chicken squawking
  3. Flighty, busy or lethargic birds
  4. Changes in noises and volume
  5. Changes in manure colour or consistency
  6. Changes in egg quality

For help on mitigating the challenges of the current Housing Order, please contact Adam Platt, Regional Poultry Sales Manager for Alltech UK.