How can you be properly sure that the animals in your feed have actually had a better life? There’s really only one way getting certainty: go and see for yourself. This time we visit a farm with ‘happy hens’.
Arthur Hartman, our quality manager, always visits our suppliers personally. Enabling us to check that the animals have genuinely had a better life. This time, Arthur – accompanied by an interim student (Tessa de Graaf) from CAH Vilentum University of Applied Sciences – visited two farms that are members of the Dutch ‘Biomeerwaardekip’ suppliers organization. A ‘Biomeerwaardekip’ or ‘happy hen’ is an organic chicken, done with laying eggs, that can be used for its organic chicken meat. The idea of ‘happy hens’ is an initiative of organic farmers to bolster the value attached to the organic layer.
The first visit
The day started with a visit to the first ‘happy hen’ farmer and member of the board of Biomeerwaardekip, Mr Thomassen from Overberg. A total of 130 organic ‘happy hen’ farms exist in the Netherlands. Tessa: “We looked at the coop, the hens themselves and checked the feed. The check consisted of looking at the conditions in which the hens are living, their physical condition and the feed they are given. Mr Thomassen is an organic farmer and keeps 15,000 NOVOGEN hens, spread over 5 barns (3,000 hens per barn). Inside there are 6 hens to each square metre and outside there are 2,500 hens to a hectare (= 4 metres per hen). KAT requirements stipulate that 20% of the 100% organic poultry feed must stem from the immediate surroundings. KAT stands for ‘Verein für kontrollierte alternative Tierhaltung’ (‘Association for Controlled Alternative Animal Husbandry’). The association was set up in 1995 with a view to opposing misleading labels on eggs. KAT has since evolved to become the most important authority in terms of the provenance and tracking of eggs from alternative animal husbandry systems in Germany and other EU countries.
The second visit
The second visit was to ‘happy hen’ farmer Van den Brandhof, who has 12,000 Lohman LSL Brown hens. These layers are introduced to the farm when they are around 18 weeks old. They then start laying eggs. After around 14 months of laying eggs, they are slaughtered. After all, the feed at that point is costing more than the revenue from the eggs. The hens are caught in the dark, ensuring they are calm and experience far less stress. After capture, the hens are placed in the lorry. This journey is also governed by certain animal welfare regulations, including a maximum distance to the abattoir of 120 km (c. 75 miles).
It used to be all about the eggs, with the hens themselves being a waste product. Now the entire ‘happy hen’ is used and nothing goes to waste.