FREDERICKSBURG, PA – February 7, 2012 – In the October 21, 2010 New York Times article, New Way to Help Chickens Cross to Other Side, William Neuman outlined how Bell & Evans’ new slow induction anesthesia (SIA) would be a more humane, low-stress system that gently puts the birds to sleep before they are processed. SIA successfully went online in 2011, but the story didn’t end there. “SIA is a continuing step in creating a lifecycle of humane animal compassion, outlined in The Bell & Evans Humane Animal Welfare Standard,” states Scott Sechler, owner of Bell & Evans. “Our standard is the culmination of years of best practices in humane animal treatment.” The B&E Standard oversees all aspects of the chicken’s life and insures the highest standards of humane animal welfare are observed in every part of the life cycle… from the farm, to transport and the processing plant.
On The Farm
Chicks are placed in the barn within hours of leaving their shell. Before the chicks arrive at the farm, the temperature in the house is raised to 90-92°. “If it’s too hot or too cold, chickens get stressed,” says Sechler. Their houses have cutting-edge electronic systems to monitor conditions around the clock, to provide year-round climate control and to insure optimal temperature and air quality in the house. Cold water runs down the cool cells. Fans at the other end of the barn draw cooled air through the cells and throughout the barn. Radiant heaters keep chicks warm and comfortable in all seasons.
No Reused Litter
Unlike the conditions depicted in Food Inc., Bell & Evans removes all manure and litter, after each flock of chickens, then thoroughly cleans and disinfects the house. In their new style barns, windows provide light throughout and the cement floors have raised sides. This makes it easier to clean and guarantees rodents cannot tunnel under the floor and up into the house. Rodents are the major cause of salmonella and campylobacter, as well as stress, in chickens.
After the house remains empty for approximately two weeks to make sure any virus life cycle has been broken, Bell & Evans starts with fresh, new litter for each flock. “Other poultry growers place baby chicks on old manure… flock after flock. Others may top-dress the litter in severe wet spots or add chemical litter treatments to reduce ammonia levels in the house. Since personnel must wear protective gear while applying these amendments…how safe can the residue be for the chickens put in the house after it’s applied?” questions Tom Stone, Director of Marketing for Bell & Evans. Fresh litter and constant fresh air circulation keep dust and ammonia in the house to a minimum. Bell & Evans’ chickens do not suffer from hock burns – ammonia burns on the skin of the bird’s leg from prolonged contact with soiled litter.
Chickens Never Confined to Half-House Brooding
Our chicks have access to the whole house from day one. Other producers keep their chicks in a small, curtained-off ‘brood area’ for the first 7-14 days. This method reduces heating and litter requirements, but the growing chicks become overcrowded and get injured while climbing over each other to get to the food and water. When the curtains are raised, the chickens tend to stay crowded together and don’t move throughout the house. They live their lives overcrowded and under-exercised.
In this environment the chickens are calm and non-aggressive. They’re never stressed by being de-beaked or de-spurred and have plenty of room to move about as they choose. The farm families provide ‘toys’ to keep the birds active. Chicks love to play in-and-around cardboard tubing. Older chickens peck at and climb on straw bales, ramps and perches. On Bell & Evans’ organic farms, the chickens are free to go outside or take shelter inside the house if the weather is bad. The outdoor pens are enclosed so no predators can attack the chickens. These activities encourage the chickens to jump and play…building healthy bodies and strong muscles. Since Bell & Evans chickens remain active throughout their lives, they rarely suffer from breast blisters, a condition caused when birds spend too much time resting on their breasts.
Raised without Antibiotics
Raised naturally in a low-stress environment, Bell & Evans chickens start out healthier, so they have no need to pump the birds full of antibiotics throughout their lives. “Some producers say their chickens are antibiotic free, but it only means they were antibiotic free when they’re sold. It doesn’t mean they weren’t given antibiotics sometime in their life cycle. Bell & Evans chickens receive no antibiotics, ever,” Stone notes.
No Hexane Separated Soybeans
Their birds thrive on their all-vegetarian diet. Well-fed chickens are happy and less-stressed. The feed is Bell & Evans’ special blend of locally-grown corn and extruded and expeller-pressed soybeans, blended with essential vitamins and minerals. They do not use Hexane solvent to separate the oil and vitamins from the soy bean. Bell & Evans creates their soy meal by extruding and expeller-pressing the beans. In this way, they keep all the vitamins and some of the oil in the meal. The oil that is expelled is refined and could be used for human-grade oil products. Sechler asserts, “Hexane solvent may produce a cheaper soy meal, but in my opinion, it’s junk!”
“It’s what we do and do not feed the chickens that makes the difference. Sechler adds, “Ethanol by-products are becoming the replacement for corn that livestock producers can no longer afford. Its energy value is approximately 17% lower than corn, but the more alarming issue is the antibiotics used to control bacteria in the fermentation process. Not all antibiotics are metabolized and remain in the DDGS (distiller’s dry grains with solubles) protein, along with who knows what? I feel this ‘garbage’ is not good for any animal, and it’s certainly not good for the people who eat them.”
And unlike commodity-produced chickens, Bell & Evans never feeds their birds junk food such as rendered meat scraps; bone, feather or fish meal; animal fats; expired bakery goods; used cooking oils or grease; or feed additives containing arsenic. They take the extra step to pelletize the feed, because it makes the feed more digestible and less likely that contaminants enter the food chain. Each batch is electronically monitored to make sure it meets their formulation standards.
Transport to Plant
When the chickens are ready to be transported to the processing plant, the main concern is keeping their stress levels low. All Bell & Evans farms are within two hours of the plant. The chickens are caught quietly and methodically to minimize stress and injury, then gently placed in drawers. The drawers fit into a module that in-turn fits snugly on the truck. This system provides first-class transport, protection and a sense of security for the chickens, while allowing for ventilation at all times to prevent heat stress. A tarp system protects the chickens in inclement weather and the washer system cleans and sanitizes the drawers and modules between each use. “Our competitors use a dump line conveyance system. Cages are rarely cleaned or disinfected. This is clearly a cost effective solution; however, it’s the most inhumane process in the world,” states Scott Sechler.
Processing of the Chickens
SIA is the final step in The Bell & Evans Humane Animal Welfare Standard. While in the safety of these drawers, the birds are rendered unconscious slowly, taking between 6 and 7 minutes. Once exiting the tunnel, the birds are placed in line for processing while still asleep, without pain or suffering. There is no water-bath stunning and the birds are never suffocated. Leading livestock-handling authority, Temple Grandin, agrees, “…this (SIA process) is a big step forward in chicken welfare.” There is no stress during their last minutes of life and it creates a better working environment for Bell & Evans employees. Conventional live hang areas are dimly lighted to keep birds from being startled, and workers have to contend with the stress and dust from struggling, flapping chickens.
Leading the Industry
Although Bell & Evans supports GAP (Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Animal Welfare Ratings) standards for the broiler chicken industry, they feel The B&E Standards with SIA take humane animal welfare one step further. The HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) applauds Bell & Evans’ efforts to raise their chickens with the best quality of life. “The Humane Society of the United States – fully supports Bell & Evans’ switch to Slow Induction Anesthesia (SIA). The SIA system Bell & Evans has developed will improve bird welfare by eliminating live-dumping and live-shackling and worker contact with live birds,” states Matt Prescott, spokesperson for HSUS.
For the last year, Bell & Evans has worked closely with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) on this project. Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA wrote, “Bell & Evans shows that animal welfare and good business can go hand in hand.” “…and by listening to consumers’ wishes, Bell & Evans has set a new standard for the chicken-supply industry.”
Bell & Evans has been family-owned and operated since the 1890s. They process about 850,000 birds a week and distributes their Raised without Antibiotics and Organic chickens nationwide.