In researching today’s entry on animal rights and “happy meat”, I stumbled on this fact sheet (pdf) from Certified Humane. It explains Certified Humane’s position on trimming the beaks of laying hens.
Early studies showed that hens that were beak-trimmed at 12-16 weeks of age experienced chronic pain after trimming. However, in 1997 Dr. M.J. Gentle of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, UK, conducted research that showed that, although chicks beak-trimmed before 10 days of age may experience short-term pain, they do not experience the longterm pain that was associated with trimming chicks at ages older than 10 days.
Our standards require that, if chicks are to be trimmed, the trimming must occur at 10 days of age or younger. …
The comparison to circumcision is not perfect, of course, but the basic mindset is quite similar. If we can do it so they don’t remember it, the common belief is that any remaining ethical questions¹ simply disappear. That’s too easy because it’s one-sided and rigged to reach a predefined conclusion.
To be fair, this is the opening paragraph of the fact sheet:
HFAC allows minimal beak trimming in order to avoid heavy feather pecking and cannibalism among laying hen flocks. Feather pecking can occur in flocks of any size, and in any production system. Cannibalism is more common in large flocks (flocks of over 60-120 birds) but can also occur in flocks of any size. Cannibalism is more common in non-cage than cage systems.
Animals act in weird, barbaric ways. I wouldn’t attempt to pretend that nature is pretty or idyllic. But when assessing something like beak trimming, we’re supposed to look at cannibalism within flocks. Production system is the wizard behind the curtain we’re supposed to ignore. Why is that?
Fitting anatomy to the system becomes the goal, not fitting the system to anatomy. In that respect, it’s exactly like routine infant circumcision.
¹ For example (pdf):
The ability of beak-trimmed and intact laying hens to ingest feed pellets was examined by highspeed video filming of feeding birds. The birds were exposed to either a deep layer of pellets or a single layer of pellets. In the single layer treatment, there was a negative correlation between mandible asymmetry and feeding success. These data have important implications for poultry welfare, since the degree of bill asymmetry caused by beak trimming may, under certain circumstances, result in inadvertent feed deprivation.
Is adequate feeding relevant to humane treatment?