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Preparing for no beak tipping

Charles Macleod
PRA Chairman

The introduction of a ban on Infrared Beak Treatment (or beak tipping or trimming) has been mooted by successive governments for 20 years. A practice that was originally intended as an interim measure to reduce / prevent feather pecking whilst a long-term solution was agreed, is now commonplace, amongst layer producers.
Despite studies and research, the industry has been unable to agree a way forward voluntarily, and with bans already in place across Europe, the prospect of legislation being introduced in the UK looks increasingly likely, with some industry experts suggesting this could happen as early as 2023 – although there will probably be a transition period.

Considerations for Producers

There is no doubt that when routine beak tipping ceases, the risk of severe feather pecking increases and poses a significant threat to the bird’s health, welfare and financial performance.

Once established, damaging flock behaviour can be difficult to control. Early identification and action are vital to protecting and maintaining welfare and flock productivity.

Having the appropriate systems, plans and training in place to mitigate these risks will be key. Acquiring the experience and knowledge to identify the triggers enables planned interventions to prevent problem behaviour escalating. Often by the time feather loss is seen, the initiating causes / triggers occurred several weeks previously.

  • Stress. Identifying and reducing stress levels in laying flocks will produce the most beneficial performance results. The ability of the flock to respond to the most well considered nutritional and environmental management will be severely prejudiced by being unsettled and nervous
  • Rearing. Routines developed in rear must be considered when transferring flocks to laying accommodation. Creating a familiar and welcoming environment is the foundation that flock performance can be built on. Remember that until the first egg is produced, the flocks are still in the rearing phase and management needs to be respectful of this
  • Behaviour. Ensure that hens have the ability to express normal behaviour, adequate friable litter for foraging, provision of grit and destructible enrichment such as lucerne bales, pecking blocks and rope
  • Feed deficiencies. Make sure feed is fit for purpose and provides for the birds’ requirements at each stage of production. Grist composition and physical presentation are just as important as nutrient levels and balance
  • Social hierarchy. Vital that birds are reared in the same social groups that they will be in on laying farm
  • Environmental. Ensure a good house environment including clean water supply, good air quality and correct feed. Maintain good biosecurity to prevent infections sapping the flock’s productive energy
  • Stress at placement. Ensure adequate litter at placement. After many years of experience working with pullets and layers, I cannot stress how strongly I feel about the provision of litter at placement. Of course, I am aware of the concerns relating to floor eggs, but we need to recognise that many factors lead to floor eggs and we have to identify and address all these issues. Whilst litter provision might have been minimised in birds with trimmed beaks, I am very concerned that insufficient litter in the early days of a flock will lead to pecking issues as the hens redirect their natural foraging behaviour. We need to look at each farm and come up with a tailor-made solution to ensure bird welfare and performance are optimised
  • Managing change. Any changes that the flocks experience have the potential to cause stress. Managing flocks efficiently and effectively will always require fine tuning of the environment and inputs. Changes introduced gradually whilst carefully monitoring flock reaction and providing support with multivitamins will ensure that the effects are beneficial rather than detrimental


The removal of Beak Tipping as a management tool will be testing for flock keepers. As with other regulatory changes however, the industry has proved that it is resourceful, innovative and determined, adapting to change and continuing to develop novel techniques to maintain and improve economic viability. A new and holistic approach to nutrition, housing and management will be needed to address this demanding challenge.

St David’s are in a unique position to collate on farm experience and research across the industry in the UK and globally, providing farmers with unrivalled access to the techniques required to maintain flock health and profitability in these changing times.

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