Beak Trimming

This month I thought I would talk about beak trimming and the current position of the potential ban being brought into force. My next article will look into how this practice affects aggression in laying flocks with a case study. Nearly every commercial flock in the country has probably seen some kind of aggression in their birds during their laying period and debeaking is one tool used to manage the damage caused by injurious pecking, such as cannibalism, feather pecking and vent pecking. Below are a couple of photos showing a bird before and after beak trimming.

Beak trimming in the past has been seen as a painful mutilation of the birds’ beak. There used to be several different methods of trimming but the most common ones used today are hot blade trimming and infrared beak trimming. It is the latter which is most common in day old chicks.

Fully Beaked Bird

Beak trimming was going to be banned in 2011 but on the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) this ban was put off. This was because of the council’s concerns of feather pecking and cannibalism. This position is going to be reviewed this year with now a potential ban coming into place in 2016.

Part of the reason that the ban did not come into place in 2011 was that Glasgow University had done some research showing that infrared beak trimming did not cause long term suffering. It said that the egg industry should make preparations to be able to keep flocks without the use of beak trimming from that date, and it commissioned the University of Bristol to conduct trials to show how non-beak-trimmed commercial birds could be successfully managed. It is on farms involved in those trials where pecking has broken out. The government has also insisted that infrared beak trimming be used in the future.

The Government says its long term goal is to ban routine beak trimming. But it says, “It is important that such a ban is reinstated and enforced at a time when the industry has the information and ability to comply without compromising laying hen welfare. We need to allow time for the change to alternative systems following the conventional cage ban in 2012 to become well established. We know some breeders are incorporating information on pecking behaviour in their selection programmes, but it may take several years to find a strain that is not prone to feather pecking under commercial conditions.

The review in 2015 will be carried out by the Beak Trimming Action Group (BTAG) which is comprised of representatives from the egg industry, welfare groups, vets, academics and the government. There have been letters from eight different vets who are on the British Veterinary Poultry Association (BVPA) who have written to Owen Patterson (Environment Secretary) stating that going ahead with the ban could compromise bird welfare and said the ban should be put off until it could be shown that commercial laying flocks could be managed without the risk of injurious pecking.