What Happens to Old, Egg-Laying Chickens?

According to My Pet Chicken, the average lifespan of a chicken is about eight years, and they only lay eggs productively in the first two to three years of their lives. In fact, commercially reared hens are only productive for about two years, sometimes even less. A hen in its prime egg-laying period lays one egg every 22 hours, a frequency that reduces as it grows older.

Which makes one wonder – What does a commercial egg farmer do with thousands of hens that cannot produce eggs anymore?

There are several ways to address the issue of spent hens” – as they’re commonly known in the industry. Unlike the birds that are bred specially for eating, ex-layers are not edible and are widely dismissed as pet food.

Spent hens and pet food

Converting non-egg laying hens into pet food is the biggest and most profitable solution that the poultry industry has found till date. Hens are packed into crates and shipped in trucks to the pet food plants located away from residential areas.

However, this is not a very humane solution as covering such large distances cooped up in big crates inside dark trucks is very stressful for the birds; and despite this being a fairly common practice, it has received a lot of flak from animal rights activists, especially in the USA and Canada.

But perhaps, the most widespread practice is mass euthanasia of such birds.

On-farm euthanasia of spent hens

Mostly followed by commercial farmers, the spent hens are simply gassed with CO2 and asphyxiated. Post this, they’re either loaded in trucks to be land-filled or they’re rendered.

This might seem horrific at first, but is actually more humane than shipping off these poor creatures thousands of miles in trucks. Euthanizing the hens at night on the farm, is actually practical too, because then their life is over quickly as they sleep.

The farm production is coordinated with when the next batch should arrive, and this is usually a 2-3 week turnaround, giving farm owners enough time for cleaning and disinfection. Delays to this process are unwelcome since they’re costly, create operational hurdles, and affect the egg flows. More so because, when the chickens can no longer produce eggs, the farmers are usually out of business until they procure a new batch.

The use of custom inflatables are unheard of, to accomplish mass euthanasia of farm birds. EuPoul is a revolutionary poultry management module that offers a smart solution for the poultry mass euthanasia.

This inflatable tent can be used either outdoors or inside. The lightweight, erognomic design ensures that it can be inflated easily and quickly with just a two-person team. All walls inside the tent are sealed with Velcro. These walls can be rolled up and held by straps; and the units can be used individually or coupled together to create custom giant inflatables.

Why did the need for such a solution arise?

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Mass euthanasia can be challenging at times. Further, the increasing scrutiny of the poultry industry by animal rights groups, retailers, and consumers highlights the importance of developing euthanasia methods that are as humane and acceptable as possible.

EuPoul is the brainchild of Farmer Stuart Howe. “There were several major reasons for coming up with a better solution to managing the spent hens on my farm”, according to Stuart. “The primary motive was to come up with a more humane method of euthanasia. I wanted to reduce the stress and injury to the birds that they sustain when being caught and removed from the sheds. I also wanted to reduce the stress associated with long journeys to the rendering plants. Finally, access to labour, labour costs, and a diminishing market for spent hens were also challenges I was grappling with. I wanted to come up with a solution that was better for the birds and better for my piece of mind, and my farm budget”, said Stuart.

Inside the EuPoul custom inflatables

The EuPoul module is an inflatable tent, made from commercial grade PVC with sizes and shapes that cater to barns, free-range farms, and cage production systems. A typical module is 5.5x3m, but can be up-scaled or down-graded to accommodate individual requirements.

The team behind the EuPoul custom inflatables, Australia

A team of experts from different fields was brought together to develop and manage this project. Amongst these was Greg McMahon of Extreme Marquees, who holds a patent for hypoxic training modules for athletes, a veterinarian, and Bud Malone, a renowned poultry consultant with University of Delaware in USA.

How does EuPoul inflatables work?

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a) A large funnel module is placed over pop-holes that lead to the outside range. This unit is further connected to several other lower square-shaped units that are arranged depending on how many birds have to be depopulated.

b) The birds are sent inside the module through the pop-hole that is closed when the desired number of birds are inside. A single module can accommodate up to 2400 birds.

c) When the birds have settled down towards dusk, the module lids are closed and gas, typically CO2, is turned on. Within 90 seconds, the birds are euthanized while sleeping.

The complete process takes about 2.5 hours, equating to catching and euthanizing about 1,800 birds per hour. The carcasses of the dead birds is then transported through a conveyor to an end processing machine that minces them into smaller pieces, which can be composted, used by a fertiliser company, or utilised by a pet food plant.

EuPoul is highly flexible and adaptable. It allows farmers to strategically select the birds that need to be culled while leaving productive birds in their cages. This way, farmers can euthanize and maintain production levels at the same time.

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Stuart is also hopeful about his system being adapted for other poultry systems such as turkeys and broilers. “I think both the broiler industry, and even the government may be interested in this system in the event of an exotic disease outbreak. Because it is portable and flexible, EuPoul can be deployed quickly, easily, and cheaply to a farm that may need to euthanize birds in case of disease outbreak”, said Stuart.

As always, Extreme Marquees was happy to lend a helping hand to innovation, design, and functionality for tents in areas other than just events. You can read more about EuPoul at www.eupoul.com.au or call 1300 850 832 for more information.

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