by Kristen Kelderman
One of my favourite traditions growing up was our Sunday night breakfast for dinner and curling up to watch the Walt Disney special on CBC. Often we would grab a dozen eggs and whip up some delicious omelets for everyone to enjoy and my sister and I would fight over whose turn it was to crack the eggs.
Since then I have cracked my fair share of eggs, but never have I really questioned where my eggs come from or where do the chickens live and what kind of care are they given?
Growing up on a farm, I never second guessed this and assumed that much like my family; chicken farmers care for their birds just like we do with our Holstein cows.
But consumers today are much more engaged and want to know more about their food and how it’s raised. And this is a fantastic opportunity for Ontario farmers to tell their story! While many people are concerned about what type of eggs they buy- free run, free range, enriched or conventional- they often don’t understand the implications that come with the associated housing systems.
The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) is evaluating the tradeoffs that exist between the different housing systems and how they impact the environment, animal health and well- being, food affordability, food safety and worker health and safety. This research follows two flocks over three years on a commercial farm at the same location with three different housing systems, an aviary, an enriched system and a conventional system.
While the preliminary data has just been released, it provides some very intriguing results regarding environment, animal health and well-being and food affordability. When compared to aviaries, conventional and enriched systems had better air quality with lower levels of ammonia and dust particulates.
Eggs coming in, by conveyor belt, from a Canadian laying hen barn.
And when considering the health and well being of the birds, there were varying results in which system had the most fractured wings, the most breast bone deviations, overall feather coverage and highest incidence of foot problems.
Overall each system had associated health pros and cons, but one did not stand out ahead of the others. The interesting information from this research is that this is the first time food affordability data has been collected on a commercial sized farm. Continue reading