There are different systems of rearing chicken namely free-range, semi-intensive, folding units and intensive systems. To a large extent, chicken production especially at commercial level, heavily relies on intensive systems, with the common ones being battery cage and deep litter systems.
The choice of system to use is mainly dictated by available resources with deep litter undisputedly being the most widely used across the country. In recent years, battery cage has been gaining popularity, making farmers choose between the two based on purpose and preference. Also known as indoor cages, the battery cages is a system whereby poultry are reared in identical rows and columns of cages connected for easy feeding and collection of eggs. This system allows eggs laid to roll out of the cage to a receiving gutter while food receptacles are outside the cage and water is supplied using pipes bearing drinking nipples.
However, animal welfare lobby groups like the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (Anaw), have since spoke up and against the battery cage poultry rearing system, saying it denies the birds their rights to movement and exposes them to high stress levels.
Furthermore, this system was banned in the European Union under the European Union Council Directive 1999/74/EC. The directive was passed by the EU on minimum standards for keeping egg laying birds.
Although the cages are fast gaining popularity in Kenya and Africa in general, they come with both pros and cons, and the disadvantage are oppressive to the birds. As much as the system is especially suitable for farmers with little space, the lobby group insists that the cages come as a ‘punishment’ for birds, compromising their physical and psychological health.
According to Dr. Dennis Bahati, the animal welfare program’s manager at Anaw, the cages offer limited movement for birds, hindering them from expressing normal behavior. Some birds, he adds, end up shedding feathers as they rub themselves on the wires around the cages, in quest to move around. Moreover, the lack of exercising also weakens the bird’s bones, causing them to break easily.
Lack of exercise, coupled by high demand for calcium to lay eggs, leads to osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak, easy to fracture bones. The fact that farmers have to sometimes trim the chicken’s feathers in order to have them fit within the cages subjects the birds to even more suffering, according to Dr Bahati. Furthermore, and due to the small size, birds are unable to stretch, flap their wings, feather ruffle as well as other behaviors.
Some of the advantages of this modern system include high egg production and quality meat. The high yield is attributed to the fact that movement of the poultry is minimal hence energy is conserved and directed to production of eggs.
Besides, this system is less labur intensive as collection of eggs is within the system. The system also allows for high levels hygiene, thus keeping diseases and infections at bay. However, according to a recent report by Anaw, the battery cage system lacks physical and psychological space for the poultry; the poultry lack exercise resulting to higher incidences of metabolic disorders. The system lacks nesting opportunities resulting to severe frustration for many birds each time an egg is laid.
Poultry rearing on the rise
Published in June this year, the Anaw report reveals that poultry rearing has been on the rise for the last 15 years. This venture, the report further reveals, dramatically changed, moving from traditionally small family farms to a large agricultural industry. This is intended to meet the high demand for poultry products, occasioned by a rising population.
For instance, in Kenya, as of 2010, commercialization of poultry farming was introduced and accepted by commercial farmers in Kenya. This was after the introduction of the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy (ASDS) by the government in a bid to boost the agricultural sector and poultry farming with it.
No adequate laws
The report indicates that there lacks adequate laws and policies to govern the poultry sector. As it stands, and following the ASDS strategy by the government of Kenya, poultry farmers in the country are at liberty to exercise any production means they deem fit to further boost their produce.
Be that as it may, there should be frameworks in place to govern this sector. Poultry keeping farmers need to be sensitized on the need to mind the welfare of their birds and keep them in physical and psychological health.