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The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards for higher welfare indoor and outdoor meat chicken systems focus on providing for the behavioural and physical needs of the birds. Under the Scheme, maintaining good quality litter through control of temperature, humidity and ventilation is essential. The lighting regime encourages activity during the light period while providing sufficient and proper rest during the dark period, and birds are provided with sufficient space to move. Environmental enrichment is key to the RSPCA’s Standards and must be provided, maintained and or replaced regularly to ensure birds have continuous access from seven days of age.
Some of the specific requirements of the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme Standards for Meat Chickens include:
Nutrition - adequate food and water that provides for the birds’ requirements is provided at all times.
Enrichment - environmental enrichment is be provided for all birds from seven days of age, including perches and pecking objects. This includes at least 2.7m of perch space and one pecking object per 1000 birds, and maintaining and/or replacing enrichment items regularly to ensure that birds have maintained interest. There are no legal requirements to provide enrichment.
Good quality litter - good quality bedding, in the form of dry and friable litter (at least 50mm deep) is provided at all times, to allow for the birds' behavioural needs to dust bathe, scratch and forage.
Appropriate lighting - the provision of a minimum of eight hours of light (either natural or artificial) which must provide an average of at least 20 lux (compared with the legal minimum of 2 lux), and six hours of darkness at night from seven days of age.
Adequate space to move - birds are provided with a maximum stocking density of 28kg per metre squared for natural ventilation systems, and 34kg per metre squared for mechanical ventilation systems, compared with the legal maximum density of 40kg per metre squared. There is also a limit on the number of times a flock of birds can be ‘thinned’, or disturbed for depopulation.
Responsible use of antimicrobials - the preventative use of antimicrobials (including coccidiostats) is strongly discouraged. Where antimicrobials are used, an Antimicrobial Stewardship Plan is required to be in place and updated yearly in order to demonstrate responsible antimicrobial use.
Good air quality - Ammonia levels must not exceed 15ppm and ventilation systems must provide adequate air exchange to manage dust, temperature and humidity.
Good stockpersonship - Birds must be regularly monitored to check that their appearance, vocalisations and behaviour are normal. Accurate records of mortalities, management practices and bird health challenges must be maintained and available to the RSPCA. There are specific requirements on how birds must not be picked up or carried, and all persons involved in the management, handling and catching of birds must be appropriately trained and competent.
Humane killing on-farm - Sick or injured birds must be humanely euthanased without delay. There are specific requirements around when birds must be euthanased, the appropriate methods, and immediate checks to confirm death following the procedure are required.
Humane slaughter - All birds must be stunned prior to slaughter. Controlled atmosphere stunning (gas) and electrical water bath systems are permitted, with specific requirements for each, including limiting the length of time conscious birds may be suspended prior to being stunned, ensuring birds are completely stunned prior to slaughter, and back-up procedures to ensure no birds are missed.
For a meat chicken farm to become Approved under the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme, an RSPCA Assessor must visit the farm to determine it is meeting the requirements of the Standards. Once Approved, the farm will receive regular visits from an Assessor (up to four times in the first year and then at least twice per year in subsequent years) to assess their compliance with the Standards.
Meat chickens grown on an RSPCA Approved farm, transported and slaughtered in accordance with the Standards can then be marketed with the RSPCA logo. The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is not-for-profit. License fees received from companies marketing their products as RSPCA Approved are used to fund the Scheme.
To learn more about the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme or to download a copy of the Standards, please visit the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme.