At the end of the day, a few dozen hens tingle the straw and the toys of the winter garden. In Penvénan, on the pink granite coast, the Crech Min farm is the first henhouse member of the Eureden agrifood group – 5.4 million laying hens, 52% of which are reared in cages (code 3) – to have started processing the production of laying hens from the cage to the ground two years ago. Behind the fence, a ball and various objects provide an activity for the hens. “They love cans,” smiles Xavier Le Cocq, at the head of a farm with production split between organic, open air, ground and cage farming.
After the first building of 25,000 hens, transformed in 2019, a second, larger building followed this year. An evolution in response to societal demand, concerned with animal welfare to which the breeder adheres. “I prefer to see them there than in a cage”, assures the 40-year-old.
Qualified as ground-based rearing, these two buildings will produce code 2 eggs, requested by supermarkets. “Animal welfare codes 2”, specifies Daniel Haener, in charge of the poultry sector within the cooperative group. Perched on the aviary which rises several meters in height, here, the hens have the freedom to enter and to go out and frolic in the winter garden.
Less aggressive hens
Nibbling straw and playing games is essential for animal welfare, says Maryse Guinebretière, in charge of scientific projects on animal welfare at the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety. (Handles). “We have shown that the enrichment of the living environment, through the provision of tingling objects renewed regularly from a young age, makes it possible to reduce pecking in laying hens, even raised in cages”. Stimulated in this way, the hens prey less on their weaker counterparts, limiting the risk of cannibalism in farms.
But floor breeding without this open space would not have been satisfactory for Welfarm. A partner of Eureden, the association for the defense of animals is campaigning in this direction to convince the players in the mass distribution not to be satisfied with simple farms on the ground, without outdoor space to replace the cages. The brands announced, almost a year ago, to stop the marketing of Code 3.
A societal expectation heard by the cooperative group whose objective is to stop the cage in 2025, without waiting for the ban that the European Commission could decide for 2027.
Not compatible with the cage
Despite changes in breeding, Maryse Guinebretière believes that certain essential needs are not compatible with the cage. According to ANSES, which coordinates the European Center for Poultry Welfare, the most obvious of these incompatibilities is “the restriction of movement in three dimensions. Hens need to roam a space large enough to explore their environment and need to jump, fly, perch at different heights ”.
Under these conditions, free-range breeding appears to be the best solution in terms of animal welfare. “We have guided the breeders towards this solution. Animal welfare code 2 is a solution where there is no land available, such as here in Penvénan ”, emphasizes Daniel Haener.
“We don’t really have a choice”
An evolution that is not without economic consequences. If consumers no longer want eggs from caged hens, the new organization of production results in 10 to 25% fewer hens per henhouse. Besides the investments, the workload has also increased. “But we don’t really have a choice,” says Xavier Le Cocq, forced to hire an additional employee.
To deal with this, Eureden increases the price of these eggs by € 20 per tonne. A bonus of an additional € 30 is paid until December 31, 2024, “to encourage processing”, underlines the head of the poultry sector of the cooperative group.
The performance of these new farms should continue to improve until then. This is the meaning of the research carried out by ANSES in Ploufragan (22). “Sometimes improving animal welfare does not degrade or even improve economic profitability. This is, for example, what we are trying to do with a project under co-construction, on broilers, with multiple public and private actors ”, explains the scientific project manager.
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