Egg Industry News and Commentary

  —  Jun 23

 
Humane Farm Animal Care Introduces Seasonal Pasture Raised Option

    

Humane Farm Animal Care issued new standards on May 21st relating to pasture and free-range management. 

The HFAC standard for pasture raised reads, A management system where adult birds are kept on pasture 12 months of the year, in an outside area that is mainly covered with vegetation.  They are kept indoors at night for protection from predators but it is prohibited to keep them continuously indoors 24 hours per day without access to pasture for more than 14 consecutive days.  A minimum outside space requirement is 2.5 acres per 1000 birds to meet the Animal Care Standards for Pasture Raised.

  

The definition of Seasonal Pasture Raised states, Seasonally pastured hens must be outdoors for all months of the year and the pasture is exposed and available to the hens and the outside temperature will not constitute welfare concern.  Hens may only be kept continuously indoors 24 hours per day without access to pasture if the outside temperature is below freezing and or accumulated precipitation is prohibiting the ability of hens to move freely on the pasture. 

The regulations make no reference to the need to confine flocks during migration of waterfowl that disseminate avian influenza virus. This is a convenient omission, defying the realities of production over the past three years and ignoring the situation in the E.U. over the status of flocks confined to barns in accordance with directives by veterinary regulators.

An informed colleague with extensive experience in management of flocks both under confined and non-restricted conditions notes that commercial chickens are derived from a jungle fowl progenitor.  In their native environment in equatorial forests, the jungle fowl is protected by the arboreal canopy from raptor predators.  On pasture, chickens are vulnerable and to make anthropomorphic statements that hens on pasture or range are “happier” than their barn-housed sisters is an exercising in self-deception.  Birds on range are exposed to bacterial and viral pathogens, parasites and predation loss.

The cost involved in producing eggs from pastured hens is disproportionately higher than in barns. The future of the “pasture raised” will depend on the size of the market willing to pay a premium for sentiment and accordingly price will limit adoption of the system.