1. What is end-of-lay?

What is end-of-lay?
Stress during transport
Legal requirements
Preparing for transport
At the slaughter plant
Further reading

What is end-of-lay?

Laying hens are transported 3 times in their life: from the hatchery they are transported as day-old chicks to the rearing house. At 17-18 weeks of age they are transported from the rearing house to the layer house. At the end of the laying period, they are transported to the slaughter house. This last transport needs to be managed well to prevent animal welfare problems.
End of lay addresses this last transport, from the moment of catching until the moment of slaughter. Also some management measures taken to prepare the birds for transport are taken into account in the trajectory indicated as end of lay.

In detail the following measures and periods can be identified (see also figure):

End-of-Lay Logistics

On farm:

  • Withdrawal from food: usually the morning before depopulation the food is withdrawn from the birds to make sure they will have their intestines empty when transported
  • Catching: A special crew catches the birds to take them out of their housing system. Usually this is done in the dark, so hens don’t fly away. The resting birds can easily being taken from the perches.
  • Carrying to the crates or modules : if the crates are brought into the henhouse, the distance is very short. Otherwise the birds are carried out of the house to the place where the modules or crates are located. This can be in the service area of the house or on the truck.
  • After each truck is loaded, it will leave towards the slaughter house.

On the road:

  • Depending on the distance the transport will have a longer or shorter duration and may require a resting period

At the slaughter house:

  • At the slaughter house the crates or module will be placed in the lairage until the moment of slaughter. Often the crates or modules stay on the truck during lairage time, but they can also be unloaded.
  • Depending on the duration of the journey the birds are required to receive water and/or food
  • When the birds are due to being slaughtered, the crates or modules are brought into the slaughter house

Birds mostly are taken out of the crates or modules and shackled  by hand

Stress during transport

There are a lot of factors causing stress to end-of-lay hens at transport. Also prior to transport stress can be experienced by the management to prepare for transport.

Potential stressors prior to transport include:

  • food deprivation: hens are deprived from food prior to transport to make sure their gut is empty.
  • in some cases hens from separate compartments in a henhouse are gathered in one compartment to facilitate catching. This means that part of the flock has been moved and after moving the stocking density is double. Both the moving and the high density may cause stress.

Potential stressors during transport are:

  • Catching of the birds, carrying them to the crates or modules and putting them in. Apart from the stress of the event itself (esp. fear related to chasing and inversion), there is a risk for trauma, which will cause pain and stress.
  • Loading of the truck. Crates or modules are brought out of the henhouse and loaded onto the truck. The noise and new environment will cause stress.
  • Actual transport: during the actual transport hens may be stressed by noise, trembling of the environment, rapid changes in climate, deprivation of food and water, high stocking densities, dehydration and injuries.
  • Climatological changes: before the actual journey starts, the temperature in the crates/modules will raise and might easily exceed the comfort zone of the birds. This will also depend on the time of the year. As soon as the truck starts to drive the temperature will drop. Each time the truck stops, the temperature will raise. At the slaughter plant the crates or modules are placed in the lairage area, where the temperature will raise, even though shields and/or ventilation is installed. A study carried out in The Netherlands during winter time indicated that over a 4 hour period birds experienced a variation in temperature during transport of 20-25 degrees C.

For each potential stressor management and good equipment can reduce the actual stress experienced. Also the physical condition of the birds will have an influence.

Legal requirements

For transport of poultry a number of European Directions and Regulations need to be taken into account:

Transport regulation (EC, 1/2005):

Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 of 22 December 2004 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations and amending Directives 64/432/EEC and 93/119/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1255/97.

This regulation gives directions for all aspects regarding transport of animals and also provides definitions of transport and journey:

Journey: the entire transport operation from the place of departure to the place of destination, including any unloading, accommodation and loading occurring at intermediate points in the journey;

Transport: the movement of animals effected by one or more means of transport and the related operations, including loading, unloading, transfer and rest, until the unloading of the animals at the place of destination is completed;

Transport therefore is not only the journey, but also includes the catching, loading, lairage period up to the moment of unloading the truck.

Killing of animals (EC, 1099/2009):

Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing.

Although this regulation does not specifically address transport, but mainly focusses on the killing of animals, it does contain some rules with regards to the period from arriving at the slaughter house until the moment of slaughter.

Specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin (EC, 853/2004):

Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin.

This regulation contains several rules regarding animal welfare; also the HACCP procedure welfare at arrival at the slaughterhouse is influencing transport of poultry, because “the procedures must guarantee that each animal or, where appropriate, each lot of animals accepted onto the slaughterhouse premises:

(d) is clean;

(e) is healthy, as far as the food business operator can judge; and

(f) is in a satisfactory state as regards welfare on arrival at the slaughterhouse.

For transporting poultry European legislation requires the provision of water during long journeys. Apart from this there are European regulations regarding the length of the period without food.

In general the industry interprets the legislation as that it is not allowed to withhold water during transport of poultry for more than 12 hours and food for 24 hours. The latter is excluding the period of feed withdrawal on farm.


Preparing for transport

Before poultry is transported, food is withdrawn for some time so that the intestines are empty. This results in a minimum of defecation during transport and thus a minimum of soiling of the birds, in the crates as well as on the slaughter line. The latter is important for hygienic reasons. There is a wide variation in the duration of this food withdrawal time. For end-of-lay hens an average of 28 hours (including the time of the journey) was recorded in a field study in the Netherlands. Water should never be withdrawn until catching commences. For laying hens no legal requirements are in force regarding the duration of feed withdrawal, but there are several codes of Practice (see more details here). Water should never be withdrawn until catching commences.

At the slaughter plant

When birds arrive at the slaughter plant they may not be slaughtered immediately. The truck is then parked in the lairage area or the crates/modules are unloaded in the lairage. Ventilation and cover (for sun or rain) are used to maintain an acceptable climate for the birds.

Depending on the duration of the journey and the duration of their stay in the lairage area, birds need to be supplied with water and/or food.

Further reading

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