That time of the year has rolled around on the farm where we are coming to the end of the circle of life—providing a good death for the birds that have served us for the last year. To understand why we only keep birds for one year, check out blog post from 2015.
This is never an easy day for me as a farmer nor for the people I work with. As farmers, we are constantly striving to find a way to make this day one that has the least amount of pain and suffering for the birds.
I was fortunate enough to attend two conferences in London, England recently. The first one was sponsored by the international organization, United Farm Animal Welfare (UFAW) and the second specifically related to Controlled Atmospheric Stunning (CAS). Nigel Gibbens, Chief Veterinary Office for the UK said that “death is likely to be the greatest welfare challenge an animal will experience in its life. The paradox and the fact that it won’t ever be without any suffering doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do the best we possibly can”.
In the Alberta egg industry, most poultry is euthanized on the farm using CO2 gas, which is one method of CAS. It is an acceptable method, approved around the world and endorsed by our national organization Egg Farmers of Canada. End-of-lay depopulation is a critical component of our national Animal Care Program, a program that is mandatory for all egg farmers.
I have used CO2 gassing for several years, but had an opportunity to try out a new technology called Low Atmospheric Pressure system (LAPS). This technology started in the US and is used commercially at several poultry slaughter plants. I’m not a very techy person, but I’m going to try to explain this method: essentially, birds enter a chamber and negative atmospheric pressure is applied gradually. The result is that birds reach an acute hypoxic state (deficiency of oxygen reaching the tissues), which isn’t unlike being in an unpressurized airplane at higher altitudes.
While CO2 gassing is acceptable around the world and considered humane, and research has been done into other types of gassing ( ie. Argon and Nitrogen), research also continues to have welfare concerns with gassing. For example, birds exhibit symptoms of breathlessness before they are rendered unconscious. As science and industry better understands issues around welfare, pain and suffering, new technologies such as LAPS have emerged. The Alberta egg industry is interested in determining whether this technology is feasible for continuous on-farm use.
Egg Farmers of Alberta (EFA) in conjunction with industry partners and veterinarians, and with funding from the provincial government, adapted the commercial technology and developed a mobile unit which is being trialled around the province. The Alberta units is currently the only mobile LAPS unit in the world.
Click on the link here to view a video that has been produced by EFA and Dr. Mike Petrik, an Ontario poultry veterinarian, to see how the LAPS works.
Here are a few shots of the LAPS system in use at my farm:
There is a little video camera & screen attached to the unit, which shows what is happening inside the unit. The birds move very little and don’t show any apparent signs of distress.
Scientific research continues and our industry keeps looking for options that work for our industry and the birds in our care.
As a second generation egg farmer, I have grown up with life and death on the farm, but it is never easy. It is always a tough day when you are ending an animal’s life, but as a farmer this is a very natural thing.
I have two weeks in between the old flock and the new flock. My team and I go in and disinfect the barn and clean everything before the new birds arrive. If you’re interested in learning more about the process, check out this blog I wrote.