Shane Commentary


Dutch Study Discloses Differences Attributed to Beak Treatment

Jul 21, 2017


EGG-CITE is indebted to Dr. Eric Gingerich who circulated a report entitled “Debeaking on laying hen performance”. Our U.S. industry abandoned the term “debeaking” over two decades ago.

We distinguish between beak treatment which involves infared application to the tip of the beak at a hatchery using a Nova-Tech installation or beak trimming which is effected by a hot blade instrument at 7 to 10 days after hatch.


 The study was conducted at the Schothorst Feed Research Center operated cooperatively by seven Dutch feed suppliers. The objective was to determine the effect of “debeaking” on performance parameters. The major defect in the report is that the author Dr. Laura Star did not specify the method of beak modification applied..  Given the absence of clarification, it is not possible to ascribe apparent diffences observed to a specific procedure. 

The motivtion for the study relates to the fact that in Holland, all forms of beak treatment or trimming will be banned after 2018 following the practice in Germany effective 2017.

The study was conducted in 36 experimental aviary pens holding 330 white-feathered pullets placed at 17 weeks of age.

The major differences observed through 67 weeks were:-

  • Feed intake was higher in the treatments with entire beaks.  The deviation between the two treatments commenced at 37 weeks of age and the difference in feed intake from 120 grams to 140 grams per hen per day (26.4 to 30.8 lbs per100 hens per day) persisted until depletion at 67 weeks.  Feed intake in the treatment subjected to some form of beak treatment remained essentially constant at 120 grams per hen per day consistent with breed standard. 
  • Egg mass was higher for the treatment with entire beaks averaging 0.8 percent greater than the treated group.  Feed conversion (presumably mass of feed consumed divided by mass of eggs produced) diverged from 27 weeks of age onwards with a numerically higher feed conversion ratio in the treatment with entire beaks.  At 67 weeks of age, feed conversion approached 2.40 for the non-beak treated hens compared to 2.05 for the hens subjected to some form of beak treatment.  This group conformed to breed standard. 
  • Mortality was higher in the non-beak treated hens (4.9 percent) compared to hens subjected to some form of beak treatment which showed a 3 percent mortality from 17 to 68 weeks of age.  The author noted that mortality was not attributed to cannibalism.
  • A major difference between the two treatments related to feather score with a value of zero assigned to unaffected plumage up to a value of 4 in hens without feather cover.  At 64 weeks of age feather score in the non-debeaked hens was 3.2 compared to 2.0 for the hens subjected to some form of beak treatment. 
  • The inferior feed conversion ratio was attributed to increased feed intake which was influenced by lack of feather cover.  There was no explanation of why hens with entire beaks yielded higher feather-damage scores. 
  • The report on the study did not specify total eggs produced nor was an economic evaluation provided.

Results of the study will probably be used to justify a delay in implementing the proposed ban on beak treatment in Holland as in the U.K. This was the most probable objective of the exercise although data whether valid or otherwise will not influence legislators in the Dutch Parliament who in general are unsympathetic to intensive livestock production and especially eggs. This is an unfortunate result of urbanization of voters who are indifferent to the importance of Holland as a producer and exporter of table eggs, egg liquids, day-old chicks and breeding stock.