GOVERNMENT grants will soon be available to egg and poultrymeat producers for capital investments that support health and welfare priorities, farmers heard at this week’s Pig & Poultry Fair. 

The grants will be one of the key strategies that make up the government’s new Animal Health and Welfare Pathway (AHWP); an initiative launched this spring across all livestock sectors.

See also: How Avara Foods is trialling innovations in broiler production

John Reed, poultry sector lead and agricultural director at Avara Foods, suggested finance would become available from late 2022.

Another branch of the AHWP was a “payment by results” scheme designed to reward farmers who demonstrate high animal health and welfare outcomes by contributing to the ongoing costs associated with higher-welfare production. 

That should start trialling early next year but is not expected to become a full-scale offer until 2025.

Early stage

The AHWP is still at an early stage, said Mr Reed. “It’s a journey, and we are right at the beginning of that journey,” he said. 

At present, the initiative is “light on detail” and something for the future, he added.

“It’s quite a bold vision, where the government, industry and key stakeholders want to see how they can work more hand-in-hand to deliver higher health and welfare.

“I’d be really disappointed if anyone said that’s a bad idea, but we can have great debates when we get to the detail of it. 

“If it works well, it’ll be great, and if it doesn’t, it won’t be.”

Stimulating demand

The policy of financially rewarding farmers is one of three strands of the AHWP. 

A second will be stimulating market demand, making it cheaper for consumers to purchase higher-welfare products.

“In today’s economic climate, price is going to be important, but we are looking longer term as well,” he said.

A third strand will be to strengthen the “regulatory baseline” to improve performance and compliance.

Improving standards

Although some things will be voluntary, there will be “some things that aren’t voluntary that are going to change”, he said. 

“There are pressures coming down from government and NGOs for a push for improving standards.” 

Capital grants will be awarded competitively and include smaller grants, where farmers can select from a list of equipment and technology items. 

Typical examples could include foraging items and ramps for laying hens. 

There will also be larger grants for bespoke infrastructure projects such as new housing, building upgrades and pasture improvements.

In the egg sector, priorities are:

  • The transition away from caged-hen production: exploring potential reforms around the use of enriched cages for laying hens and supporting producers shifting away from their use
  • Improving feather cover management: addressing the underlying root causes of feather pecking, reducing the need for infra-red beak trimming
  • Improving keel-bone health to reduce laying hens’ susceptibility to fractures.

For broilers, priorities are:

  • Implementing the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) which requires slower-growing breeds, lower stocking densities and restrictions on thinning birds, seeking improved health and welfare outcomes such as fewer leg disorders
  • Adopting welfare-improving technology to support environmental and behavioural monitoring and better stockmanship.