Farmer wins animal welfare award for ‘talkative’ hens

A Northumberland farmer beat fierce competition from 28 nominees to win the ‘Excellence in Farm Animal Welfare’ category, part of the RSPCA’s first-ever Assured Awards for Pork and Poultry Producers.

Michael Rutherford runs an organic farm near Morpeth where he breeds 12,000 laying hens, for which he has now received special recognition.

The RSPCA Assured Awards are designed to recognize and reward members of pigs, broilers, laying hens and turkeys for their achievements in improving animal welfare.

Michael runs the farm with his family, which includes his wife, father and brother, where they also have 1,900 breeding ewes, a small suckler flock and 2,000 pigs.

He impressed a panel of independent judges with his unwavering commitment to the welfare of laying hens.

One of the judges, Andrew Joret, Chairman of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), said: “What really stood out was Michael’s dedication to finding ways to avoid having to prune the beak of his flocks.

“Beak size is a contentious issue that will eventually be eliminated, so for Michael, getting ahead of the curve by already successfully managing beakless herds is a real inspiration.

Michael Rutherford wowed the judges with his unwavering commitment to the welfare of laying hens

“By exploring different types of enrichment and looking very closely at the environment of his birds, he has shown that with the right focus, patience and dedication, it can be done. He fully deserves this award. “

Michael runs at least a dozen different types of enrichment both inside and outside the hangar.

These include pecking blocks, gravel placed on the ground, in feeders, or in plastic bottles suspended from the ceiling.

Ropes suspended with reflective discs, empty bottles and tennis balls are also favorites of his herds.

Michael said: “In addition to providing many great enrichment items, we invest in good quality bedding, ventilation and lighting, all of which help keep the birds calm and relaxed.

“From the start, we also made the decision to produce medium sized eggs – rather than the more popular large eggs – which also helps reduce stress.

“Whenever a new flock comes in, we spend a lot of time with them so they get used to us and we can move around and keep a close watch on the birds without scaring them away.

“And if my hens talk to me, which they really do, I know they’re happy and I’m getting something good!”

The awards are designed to recognize and reward members for excellence in farm animal welfare – such as going above and beyond standards and expectations to help improve welfare.

Originally slated to be announced at the British Pig and Poultry Trade Fair 2020, the final winners of the other categories are announced daily this week via the program’s website.

About Sharon Joseph

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