The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is Australia’s leading independent certification scheme focused on animal welfare. Through the Scheme the RSPCA works closely with farmers committed to raising meat chickens to higher animal welfare standards. Since releasing our first animal welfare standards for meat chickens in 2010, more than 2.5 billion chickens have benefitted from better conditions on farm.
Chickens on RSPCA Approved farms are encouraged to be active. They have good lighting, perches, dry litter floor covering and space to move around. Whether raised indoors or with access to the outdoors, there’s a focus on providing for meat chickens’ behavioural and physical needs.
Some of the specific requirements of the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme Standard for Meat Chickens include:
Adequate food and water that provides for the birds’ requirements is provided at all times.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To learn more about the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme or to download the Standard visit our website.