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RSPCA celebrates top pig and poultry members in new awards

chickens eating sweetcorn

RSPCA ASSURED has launched a new award scheme that will recognise pig and poultry members that “go the extra mile”.

It will focus on producers who go above and beyond the standards, are proactive in engaging with others about welfare or demonstrate commitment to caring for the environment.

See also: Poultry.Network Live Conference

The winners will be announced in the week commencing 20 September, and below we profile the shortlisted poultry producers.

Roger Gill – Lakes Free Range, Cumbria

Agricultural Director for The Lakes Free Range Company, Roger presides over an ongoing programme of improvements in hen welfare and in creating a more sustainable environment.

Roger says: “After years of working with poultry, I’ve learnt that every day is a ‘school day’. So, I make sure I keep an open mind and constantly challenge why and how we do things”.

Shortlisted for:

  • Outstanding Contribution to Poultry Welfare

William Lea – Compliance Manager, Lloyds Animal Feeds, Shropshire

Shropshire based Will Lea is employed by Country Fresh Pullets as a fieldsman. He works with all the individual producers who rear pullets, essentially ‘teenage’ hens – for Country Fresh, a subsidiary of Lloyds Animal Feeds and works hard to improve welfare standards on all the farms.

He is known for putting the welfare of the birds as his top priority.

With an in-depth understanding of the RSPCA welfare standards for pullets, he works closely with every producer to ensure standards are met, and often exceeded.

Shortlisted for:

  • Outstanding Contribution to Poultry Welfare

David Wilson – Company Farms Manager, Hamish Morison Poultry

David Wilson, passionate about first-class stockmanship, bird welfare, hygiene and biosecurity, took over the management of Hamish Morison Poultry on the Scottish Borders four years ago.

There he set about implementing a series of changes that have positively impacted on the welfare of the hens under his care.

He has introduced a wider variety of enrichments to keep his birds stimulated – including pumpkins and Christmas trees. He has also installed hanging enrichment under the veranda areas as well as pecking blocks and straw – all to encourage “the girls” to venture onto the range.

The ranges have also been improved with better drainage and fencing to keep out predators, and additional tree planting to add natural cover.

David says: “My staff have been fantastic and fully embraced the changes I have implemented. They are committed and passionate and I couldn’t run the sites the way I do without them”.

Shortlisted for:

  • Excellence in Higher Farm Animal Welfare – Poultry

Michael Rutherford – Morpeth, Northumberland

The hens on Michael’s family farm, near Morpeth, enjoy a range planted with trees to provide cover and shelter; grass kept at different lengths to provide a choice of vegetation and habitat; shelters, branches and dustbathing areas near pop holes to encourage the birds to range.

They also enjoy a dozen different kinds of enrichment in the hen houses, twice as much as is called for in the RSPCA welfare standards.

Shortlisted for: 

  • Excellence in Higher Farm Animal – Poultry

Stephanie Robinson – Animal Welfare & Compliance Manager for Gressingham Foods, Norfolk

Stephanie works with the fieldsmen, producers and farm workers, who rear turkeys for Gressingham. Her role includes helping all of those involved in rearing the birds, to fully understand and adhere to the RSPCA welfare standards.

Her approach ensures all understand the key points of legislation, production and assurance standards governing the rearing of livestock – and for the field staff, she instils an in-depth understanding of all the requirements, thus enabling them to assist the individual growers and their stock people.

She is described by her colleagues as honest, open and a great communicator – and she has earned the respect of everyone she works with.

Shortlisted for:

  • Excellence in Education of Higher Farm Animal Welfare – Poultry

Patrick Lynn – Nottinghamshire

Patrick Lynn and his wife Esther are proud of what they do on their Nottinghamshire farm and before Covid, they hosted around 100 visits a year from the local community including schoolchildren and from overseas, including China and Japan

Visitors see their 43,000-strong flock of hens enjoying a range planted with hundreds of native trees and hedgerows – all providing shade and shelter for the birds.

Inside the sheds, the Lynns provide the best environmental enrichment possible to keep the birds stimulated and active. They have experimented with many types of enrichment and find that anything red made from plastic works particularly well.

So, visitors are likely to see red watering cans or drums suspended on ropes from the roof of the hen houses or scattered amongst the bales of straw.

Shortlisted for:

  • Excellence in Education of Higher Farm Animal Welfare – Poultry

Ben and Emma Mosey – Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire

Running Minskip Farm Shop and Yolk Farm Kitchen, an award-winning farm shop and restaurant in North Yorkshire, this enterprising and sustainability-conscious couple also have a flock of laying hens that supply eggs to the shop and cafe.

Their lucky hens have double the amount of space required to comply with RSPCA welfare standards as well as a huge paddock, planted with trees to provide shelter. In their temperature-controlled hen house, their birds are provided with a range of what they call ‘toys’ – various forms of enrichment to keep the hens stimulated.

But aside from their laudable approach to sustainability and to the welfare of their hens, this couple is passionate about “connecting real farming with the consumer”, working very proactively with local schools and with members of the public through farm visits and events and via their social media pages.

Shortlisted for:

  • Excellence in the Education of Higher Farm Animal Welfare – Poultry

Louise Seed – Woodend Farm, Scotland

Louise works with her husband John and son Donald in their family farming business in Scotland. Their aim is to create a resilient and sustainable farm. 

Their two hen houses are heated by a biomass boiler, fuelled by straw from their arable operation. The boiler also dries the farm’s grain and feeds into the heating system for houses on the farm.

They also produce their own feed for the hens, giving them close control over their nutrition as well as lowering feed and transportation costs and CO2 emissions.

There is a wind turbine on the farm and a solar array on the range – generating all the electricity used on the farm.

Field margins make up 5% of the farm and greatly help to improve biodiversity, with wildflower mixes used for the range. And 18 kilometres of native hedges have been planted as well as improvements made to existing hedges – all are cut on a three-year rotation to allow winter feed for birds.

Shortlisted for:

  • Excellence in Sustainability and Higher Farm Animal Welfare – Poultry

Clive and Elizabeth Patrick – Lincolnshire

Zero tillage is a system in which seeds are directly deposited onto untilled soil which retains the previous crop residues. This is the approach taken on Clive and Elizabeth’s 650-acre farm.

It is at the heart of conservation agriculture and results in improved soil, with less compaction, allowing for much better drainage.

There is also an increase in retention of organic matter and worm life and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. This approach to soil management, including the overwintering of stubble, also makes for an attractive habitat for wildlife.

Their flock of free-range hens are part of their quest for sustainable farming. Their manure goes back to the fields and in turn, the enriched soil, full of plump worms, encourages the birds to range extensively, thus improving their welfare.

Shortlisted for:

  • Excellence in Sustainability and Higher Farm Animal Welfare – Poultry

Charles Mear of Wood Farm, Huntingdonshire

Bedfordshire egg producer Charles Mear and his wife Jo, have an impressive track record in sustainability.

Striving to make the farm carbon-neutral, they have invested in many initiatives to achieve this, including the use of alternative energy sources for the farm; the milling of the hens’ feed on-site; use of local labour and the installing of an anaerobic digester which is fuelled with their own homegrown rye and maize crops

The digester breaks down the rye and maize to produce methane, which then runs their generator, transforming the methane into green electricity and renewable heat.

About 10% of this homemade energy is used on the farm, with the rest going to the grid to provide enough electricity to power 340 local homes.

Their hens are given natural additives such as vitamins, probiotics and enriched natural yeasts to keep them in the peak of health. This has resulted in zero use of antibiotics. 

The environmentally friendly couple also strive to provide the highest standards of welfare for their hens, with natural cover provided on the ranges well in excess of the RSPCA welfare standards requirements.

Shortlisted for:

  • Excellence in Sustainability and Higher Farm Animal Welfare – Poultry