A Northumberland farmer has beaten off stiff competition from 28 nominees to win the ‘excellence in higher farm animal welfare’ category, in RSPCA Assured’s first-ever awards for pig and poultry producers.
Michael Rutherford runs an organic farm near Morpeth where he keeps 12,000 laying hens, for which he has now received special recognition.
The RSPCA Assured awards are designed to recognise and reward pig, broiler, laying hen and turkey members for achievements in improving animal welfare.
Michael runs the farm with his family, which includes his wife, father and brother, where they also have 1,900 breeding ewes, a small suckler herd and 2,000 pigs.
He impressed an independent panel of judges with his unwavering commitment to laying hen welfare.
One of the judges, Andrew Joret, chair of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC), said: “What really stood out was Michael’s dedication to finding ways to prevent the need to beak-trim his flocks.
"Beak trimming is a contentious issue that will eventually be phased out, so for Michael to be getting ahead of the curve by already successfully managing non-beak trimmed flocks is a real inspiration.
“By exploring different types of enrichment and looking very closely at his birds’ environment, he has demonstrated that with the right focus, patience and dedication it can be done. He is very deserving of this award.”
Michael rotates at least a dozen different types of enrichment at any one time both inside and outside the shed.
These include pecking blocks, grit placed on the floor, in feeders, or in plastic bottles hung from the ceiling.
Hanging ropes with reflective discs, empty bottles and tennis balls are also firm favourites with his flocks.
Michael said: “As well as providing lots of interesting enrichment items, we invest in good quality litter, ventilation and lighting, all of which help keep the birds calm and relaxed.
"Right from the start, we also made a decision to produce medium eggs - rather than the more popular large ones - which also helps reduce stress.
“Whenever a new flock arrives, we spend a lot of time with them so they get used to us and we can move around and monitor the birds closely without startling them.
"And if my hens are chatting to me, which they really do, I know they’re happy and I’m getting something right!”
The awards are designed to recognise and reward members for excellence in higher farm animal welfare - such as going above and beyond the standards and expectations to help improve welfare.
Originally planned to be announced at the British Pig and Poultry Trade Fair 2020, the final winners in the other categories are being announced daily this week via the scheme’s website.