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The Code process, led by the National Farm Animal Care Council, sets the national standard for farmed animal welfare in Canada. Chicken Farmers of Canada’s Animal Care Program (ACP) is based on the previous version of the Code, and will be updated soon to be in line with this new Code.

Having this single standard and being a part of the development process is a benefit for our industry. It allows farmers to have input into this important document and to collaborate with a variety of stakeholders to achieve buy-in. This is critical when promoting the Animal Care Program as the one national standard for all chicken farmers. With a lifespan of about 10 years between revisions, there is stability for farmers in this process.

Here are some of the highlights of what is different in the new Code compared to the current ACP. While the Code also deals with hatcheries, turkeys, and breeders, this summary focuses just on the requirements for broilers.

Temperature and Air Quality

This section of the Code is not vastly different from the current ACP. Both require that heating and ventilation systems be inspected daily and kept in good working order. The ACP describes thermal comfort and what to observe in the birds, and the Code requires that bird behaviour be observed and corrective action taken if they are showing signs of thermal discomfort.

Steps must be taken if ammonia levels get too high, with the limit in the ACP being 25 ppm, while the Code specifies a range of 20-25 ppm. This range is in line with ammonia test strips, which are sensitive between 20 and 25 ppm and are an inexpensive and easy way to measure ammonia.

Lighting

With an abundance of recent research on lighting programs, a number of new requirements are in the Code around lighting and minimum periods of darkness. After the first 24 hours chicks must be provided with 1 hour of darkness and this must be gradually increased to 4 hours of darkness by day 5. These 4 hours of consecutive darkness must be provided until at least 7 days prior to shipping. Darkness is defined as no more than 20% of the intensity of the light period. So if the daytime lighting is 10 lux, for example, the night time must be no more than 2 lux.

These new requirements are in line with other international programs which require 4 or more hours of darkness, as well as the recommendations in the Cobb and Ross production manuals. Significant research exists to support these lighting requirements, both in terms of animal welfare and productivity.

Stocking Density

The stocking density limits in the new Code are the same as our current program, with 31 kg/m2 as the regular density level and an ability to increase density to a maximum of 38 kg/m2 if certain conditions are met. The high density conditions are very similar to those in the ACP. In addition, the Code requires that health and injury data, if available from processors, must be used to determine if density is contributing to recurring health or welfare problems (e.g. foot pad and breast lesions, cellulitis, bruises).

Bird Monitoring and Handling

This section of the ACP is very similar to the new Code, with requirements for checking the birds and what to observe for and ensuring barn readiness before chicks arrive. The Code specifically requires that birds must not be carried solely by the head, neck, wing, or tail feathers

Health Care Practices

The Code requires that cull birds, in addition to mortalities, must be recorded. In the ACP this is an additional requirement specific to production between 31 and 38 kg/m2. The Code also includes more specific requirements around euthanasia, with a separate appendix listing the acceptable euthanasia methods and the conditions that must be met for them to be considered acceptable. Mechanical cervical dislocation tools must be purpose-designed and all euthanasia devices must be proven effective for the size and species it is used for, properly maintained, and used according to manufacturers’ instructions, if applicable.

Catching and Loading

The new Code includes a number of requirements for the catching and loading process. Some of these relate specifically to the tasks of the catching crew, but many of them can be overseen by the farmer. Flocks must be evaluated for fitness prior to transport and birds unfit for transport must be euthanized, separated or transported with special provisions for treatment. Wet birds must not be loaded in cold weather if there is a risk they will become chilled. When loading birds the flock and environmental conditions, as well as expected journey duration, must be taken into consideration.

Workers and Management

Both the Code and the ACP require that personnel are competent in the tasks they are assigned. The Code further requires that a code of conduct covering bird welfare be developed and a template is provided in an appendix. A similar template was previously distributed by Chicken Farmers of Canada through the provincial chicken boards. Personnel must be monitored and receive additional training as necessary.

Next Steps

Chicken Farmers of Canada is consulting with provincial boards, the Production Committee, and Directors as the Animal Care Program is updated to align with this new Code. Changes to the ACP will be communicated to producers well ahead of being implemented.

To learn more about the Code of Practice and Chicken Farmers of Canada click here.