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New range standards mean consumers can be confident that when they buy free-range eggs, they know the hens must have access to a good quality, outdoor range. BC is the first province in Canada to set standards for free-range birds.
The new standards state that hens must have access to the range at least 120 days a year – and a day is a minimum of six hours. Farmers must document the number of days and hours a day hens have access to the outdoors.
“BC farmers have always given their free-range hens access to the outdoors on a regular basis; however, we did not have a verification system in place,” says Katie Lowe, PAg, Executive Director of BC Egg. “These new standards mean that farmers have to document outdoor access and we will audit them to ensure they are meeting these basic standards.”
The standards, which were developed with the assistance of animal care specialists and farmers, state that hens must be given outdoor access when the temperature is between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius. If a farmer restricts outside access, he/she must have a letter from a vet stating why the access is restricted. A common reason might be an illness in the flock that could be passed on to neighbouring farms if the hens were outside. Similarly, if BC’s Chief Veterinarian determines that the risk of a disease like Avian Influenza is too high, she may require that hens are kept inside.
The standards also dictate that the range must have grass, be free from debris, and not have anything that can attract wildlife (like food dishes). These standards are in addition to the standards outlined in the new Code of Practice of Care and Handling of Laying Hens.
“We are very proud to be the first in Canada to set these standards and make them mandatory for all free-range farmers in BC,” says Katie. “Our farmers want to provide the best possible care for their hens and they know these standards will help them do just that.”
The Specialty Egg Production Manual is available here.