Birds are reared indoors, in separate chicken houses where the floor is covered with fresh litter, most commonly peat. The housing conditions are carefully monitored and controlled at least twice a day, both based on sensory analysis and meters. Whole grain is added to feed for enrichment and welfare, as it is good for gizzard. The maximum rearing density is 42 kg/m² in Finland and 39 kg/m² in Estonia and Denmark. Rearing is operated with the principle “All in – All out”. Thinning* is not practiced in Finland or Estonia and the batch of birds is transported to slaughter as a group. In Denmark, thinning can be practiced occasionally. The used litter is removed and the facilities thoroughly washed, disinfected and dried carefully between every batch. Biosecurity is at a high level at production houses, which among other rearing practices, results in healthy animals and good animal welfare, preventing outside pathogens from entering production houses.
In Denmark, organic broilers are reared according to the regulations for the production of organic slaughter chickens, as described in the Instructions for Organic Farming Production. The birds also have outdoor possibilities.
Initiatives taken that enhance animal welfare
- During hot summer days, the density of birds loaded into transportation crates is decreased to avoid heat stress during the loading and transportation.
- Most of the farmers participate in voluntary animal welfare subsidy programme, which stipulates the use of chick paper, feed analysis and a feeding plan and/or enrichment, such as the use of pecking objects and perches.
- All broiler houses are required to have a fogging system. The foggers are used during the chick period to increase the humidity and during the hot season to lower temperature.
- During hot summer days, the density of birds loaded into transportation crates is decreased to avoid heat stress during loading and transportation.
- All farmers participate in a KIK programme, which ensures effective reporting regarding animal welfare.
- Nearly all broiler houses are equipped with a fogging system. The foggers are used during the chick period to increase humidity and during the hot summer season to lower temperature.
- During hot summer days, tunnel-ventilation is used in broiler chicken houses.
Read more about broiler chicken rearing and animal health and welfare practices at HKScan from the Corporate Responsibility Fact sheet.
Physical alteration practices
While beak trimming is allowed and practiced commonly in many countries, it is not practiced at HKScan’s production farms in any of the HKScan’s operating countries.
In Finland, beak trimming has been forbidden by national law since 1986. In Estonia, national law allows it in certain conditions, but beak trimming is not practiced at all due to HKScan’s own decision. Denmark’s national law also allows beak trimming in certain conditions, but it is not practiced at HKScan’s broiler breeding farms. However, in Danish hatcheries where parent stock broilers are hatched and delivered to HKScan, some birds can be trimmed immediately after hatching. As HKScan does not view beak trimming as a good practice, the company has started negotiations with the Danish supplier aiming to find such housing conditions and practices that will allow the beak trimming of parent stock to be halted.
Antibiotics and hormones
The use of antibiotics at farms is strictly controlled and supervised by legalised veterinarians. No hormones or other growth promoting treatments are used in broiler production. In Finland, broiler flocks have been so healthy that no antibiotic treatments have been used since 2010. In Denmark and in Estonia, the use of antibiotics is carefully supervised and followed. In primary production, work is done so that medicines are needed as little as possible.
Read more about antibiotics and HKScan’s practices from the Corporate Responsibility Fact sheet.
Use of Coccidiostats as feed additives
Ionophore coccidiostats are used in poultry feed to prevent the coccidiosis infection in HKScan’s operating countries. In the European Union, coccidiostats are registered as feed additives. Coccidiosis is a protozoan (Eimeria) commonly found in a broiler production house environment and it can cause a vigorous chicken intestinal tract infection. Attempts to eradicate Eimeria-protozoan have been unsuccessful. The disease can lead to intestinal lesions, diarrhoea, poor weight gain, poor feed conversion and, in some cases, death.
Deviation in estonian hatchery operations
HKScan takes animal welfare seriously and acts to prevent risks that may endanger animal welfare. In August 2017, HKScan's Estonian hatchery operations showed a serious deviation in the handling of non-viable day-old chicks and unshelled embryos. The case was immediately investigated and corrective measures were taken. In addition, relevant training and guidance was provided to the personnel. The hatchery was audited by an external animal welfare expert.
*More information about the thinning and welfare of broiler chickens can be found from RSPCA’s recommendation: A major welfare improvement for chicken linked to safer meat for customers, RSPCA bans ‘thinning’, which has been linked to higher rates of campylobacter.