Chicken & Egg Issue 11 - page 19

There are rules relating to the pop holes,
too: they must be evenly distributed and
on both sides of the hen house if it has
central nest boxes. The dimensions must
be 2m wide by 45cm high with one pop
hole for every 600 birds. The area
around pop holes is particularly busy
and prone to a build-up of faeces
presenting a potential disease risk, so
drainage material is recommended. This
can be made of stones, bark, slats or
mesh provided it doesn’t harm their feet.
Whatever is used birds must be encour-
aged to move onto the range more fully
with range enrichment.
Range enrichment includes trees, brush
and other natural habitat where birds
can forage, dust bathe and perch
naturally (Glenrath planted
last year alone for their hens). Where
ground becomes worn, farmers are
advised to promote new growth of
vegetation to prevent land from
becoming ‘poached’ or poor quality
and prone to disease. Range rotation is
also a useful way to keep ground fresh
for the hens, and in good order.
There are strict guidelines on how long
birds have access to free range too. Pop
holes must be open and access outdoors
available for hens over 21 weeks old from
9am, and they should not be shut until
Farmers are advised to give birds outdoor
access within three weeks of their arrival
on the farm and evidence shows that
being encouraged to range well from an
early age can reduce the risk of injurious
pecking and allow good ranging
behaviours to develop. Ranging hens are
happy hens, happy hens lay lots of
delicious eggs.
Hens that are kept in colony systems are
far less prone to disease and do not get
the same exposure to wild birds, so free
range hens have to be regularly wormed
and farmers are encouraged to provide
‘winter gardens’ or ‘verandahs’ which
offer birds an area just before exiting the
pop holes where they can dust bathe,
scratch and socialise without enduring the
worst vagaries of the British weather.
In conclusion, it’s been a good
10 years
for us, and for the laying hens of the future.
Consumer influence is working, and even
through recession the free range sector
remained steady. Now the cost of free
range eggs has dropped, and more
people are able to make a purchase
choice that suits their purse
Let’s keep helping hens, supporting British
farmers, and making a positive difference.
- FREE RANGE IN 2015 ... continued
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