Page 21 - British Hen Welfare Trust - Chicken & Egg Issue 3

The day old chicks arrive at rearing to find themselves installed in a pre-heated house with
clean shavings, food and water laid on. In the first few hours after hatching they continue
to draw energy and hydration from the nutrients provided within the egg, but the benefits
soon disappear and immediate access to food and ambient temperature water is vital.
At this early stage the chicks are also vaccinated against all common poultry diseases to
ensure they are given the best chance of survival – the vaccinations are often administered
through a spray mist containing blue dye which makes for an easy and swift check to
ensure that all the chicks have received treatment. After being left to dry for about 20
minutes they begin to adapt to their new world on the outside of the shell.
When the chicks first arrive at the rearing site they are exposed to 20 hours of light a day;
this provides them with the optimum opportunity to take on food and water, but within days
the light is rapidly reduced to just 10 hours. When the chicks then reach ‘point of lay’ and
arrive at the farms to start their working lives, the light is increased again and the birds are
tricked into thinking the increased daylight means that springtime has arrived, so naturally
they come into lay.
Nutrition also plays an important part in helping the hens reach peak health and the chicks
are fed on a high spec chick crumb before being switched onto a chick mash. It is crucial
that point of lay birds are up to a good weight (ideally 3kg) before going to the farms as
underweight birds are more susceptible to have ‘egg performance’ issues later during their
laying cycle.
And finally, the hens’ journey to the farms is where you, of course, have influence. The
chicks will end up in either cages, barns or in free range and/or organic environments and
whilst the farmers may physically place those birds in situ, it is consumers who dictate
where the hens will spend their lives. It really is a case of their lives are in your hands.