In 2018, Egg Farmers of Alberta introduced Feather Cover Monitoring as a new flock management tool in the on farm program record keeping book.  Feather cover is important for many reasons: it is linked to the overall perception of bird welfare, it can impact a bird’s feed consumption, temperature regulation, and their ability to protect themselves from injury. By monitoring feather cover in your flock, you can identify changes or issues early, which can aide you in understanding possible causes of the problem and in turn, potential solutions. Monitoring over time will also help you better understand the impacts of any measures you take to manage feather cover issues in your flocks.
We connected with two of our farmers that have used the Feather Cover monitoring records this year and asked them to share some of what they learned from their monitoring.
One farmer, producing eggs in a conventional cage system monitored and recorded his birds feather cover score early this year.  When he started writing down the numbers, he became concerned by what he was seeing and decided to look into the issue more closely. He spent time observing his hens in the barn and didn’t see any signs of aggressive feather pecking in his flock at all, which was a relief.  What he did notice was the feather loss his birds were experiencing was due to repeated contact with the cage walls and on feed trough.  In monitoring his flocks for feather cover he learned a lot about his flock and his housing system.  He told us that what he learned will  impact his decisions about equipment design when it comes time to replace his current conventional cages.
The second farmer we spoke to has actually been measuring feather cover in his flocks for a few years now.  He says he’s learned a lot from the recording this information on each flock and is able to monitor the impact of changes he’s made to his management to improve feather cover.  Many of the adjustments he’s made have been based on recommendations from his nutritionist that he works with on a regular basis.  He tells us that overall, the feather cover scores he sees throughout the life of his flocks now is much better than what he saw when he started recording feather scores.
EFA is going to continue to make feather cover monitoring available for our farmers in your record keeping books – we hope that more and more farmers will find these records to be a helpful management tool.  In 2019 we will be adding one more bird based measure to the records available for you to use and are excited to tell you more in the December issue of Eggnotes!