Kudos to the Trump administration for canceling the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule. For those who aren’t entrenched in the day-to-day operations of raising organic broiler chickens, the proposal may have seemed reasonable. I want to explain why it’s not.
First, I completely agree with developing consistent, higher standards for organic chicken farming. Bell & Evans Humane Animal Welfare Standard is the industry’s highest set of animal welfare standards and continues to evolve. The problem with the Organic Livestock Care Rule is that it put too much emphasis on increasing outdoor space and decreasing stocking density than correcting the bigger problems inside the chicken houses where chickens prefer to be. The space requirements and outdoor accommodations of this Rule would have been very costly for organic farmers without providing any benefit to the chickens at all.
The Rule required a significant increase to outdoor space, so that both indoor and outdoor spaces are equal to the updated stocking density. The updated stocking density was excessive because chickens don’t spread out the way animal activists would like to think. The current stocking density allows healthy chickens enough room to stay active within the house. Of course, if the chickens are unnaturally too big, that’s another issue!
Significant outdoor space for broiler chickens is nothing but a feel-good benefit for humans. It doesn’t benefit the chickens. Young broiler chickens are sensitive creatures and do not handle stress well. Temperatures matter. They can’t be out in the elements.
They are very susceptible to predators and easily stressed by pests and rodents. Broiler chickens aren’t foragers and cannot derive enough protein or other nutrients from eating grass. Biosecurity is also jeopardized in many ways when the chickens are outside. Broiler chickens prefer to be indoors. I know this because I’ve raised broiler chickens my entire life and study their habits. Even where outdoor space is provided, most chickens choose not to venture outside. So why require equal outdoor space when it won’t be used? If providing more outdoor space really benefitted the chickens, we would have implemented that many years ago. Some outdoor space is good but by and large, our chickens want to stay inside.
The Rule should focus on common sense improvements needed INSIDE the chicken houses. Cement floors make a difference by keeping pests out, minimizing stress, and allowing for easier, more thorough cleanout between flocks.
A full cleanout and sanitation between flocks should be mandatory because it breaks the lifecycle of bacteria and provides a healthier environment for both the chickens and the farmers. Every new flock of chicks should start out on fresh litter. These are standards that matter! These are standards at all Bell & Evans farms, and I can tell you that our chickens greatly benefit from these extra measures. How do you think we’ve raised chickens for 20 years without using antibiotics? We’re the only producer in the industry to do so.
Perhaps Bell & Evans Humane Animal Welfare Standard should be the new Organic Livestock Care Rule? Consider that.