Egg producer scrambles on cages

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Albany Farm Fresh Eggs will abolish battery cages in the wake of the State Government’s plan to ban the conventional chicken cages in the next 10 years.

Albany Farm Fresh Eggs owner Gary McAllister said he preferred to have his chickens out of cages and would start producing free-range eggs by the end of May.

“We’re anti-battery cages but the big boys who run the industry wanted us to keep them in cages,” he said. “There’s a lot of money involved in keeping the birds out of cages because they can be infected by other wild birds.

“I can see both sides of the arguments but at the end of the day, I’m not happy walking in and seeing them in the cage.”

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The caged-chicken row was ignited earlier this month after State Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan suggested banning the sale of battery-caged chicken in WA.

The State Government has since consulted with the public and received more than 165,000 submissions. “This clearly tells us the public cares about animal welfare,” Ms MacTiernan said.

The review found that poultry welfare could be improved by reducing stock densities and getting rid of conventional cages.

Mt Barker Free Range Chicken managing director Graham Laitt said he followed State Government recommendations and believed no animal should be caged.

He also disagrees with chicken farmers who believe there is a lower mortality rate with battery-caged chickens.

“We think that’s hokum — we’re convinced free-range chickens have the capability to develop normal muscle because of their daily exercise,” he said.

“As a result, they exhibit normal behaviour and have lower stress levels and, frankly, to me, the meat tastes better and it’s a healthier all- round production.”

Mr Laitt, who has managed the Mt Barker Free Range Chicken factory for more than 20 years, said the company had never treated its chickens with antibiotics. “You find all these chickens that are kept in cages — they might be keeping them healthy, but they also use antibiotics to do it,” he said.

Over the next 10 years, WA chicken farmers will have to dispose of their conventional chicken cages.

The submission also recommends a reduction in stocking densities for broiler chickens to 38kg a square metre.

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