Thursday, January 29, 2009

The good life

We had a bit of fun on the farm this week with a photographer and our chickens.

The chooks are a recent acquisition for the Carter family, and our story is being used for a feature in Your Weekend magazine (Saturday February 21 - The Dominion Post, The Press and Waikato Times) about the boom in backyard chook-keeping.

Writer Adelia Hallett looks at the growing desire for chooks among urban folk as well as rural dwellers, with interesting figures such as Progressive Enterprises saying that chook food is now sold in 60 per cent of its supermarkets, including many in ultra-urban areas.

Apparently there are quotes from chook-keepers across the country, plus there are tips for those keen to join the trend.

As Minister of Agriculture I am committed to best practice in our relationship with animals. I hope you can see from the pictures my red shavers are well cared for.

Of course the small, free-range, backyard option is not one for everybody and changing to completely free range poultry farming is unrealistic.

Given the very large and growing numbers of eggs and poultry consumed in New Zealand such a move would mean the conversion of large areas of productive land to poultry farming when it can be used much more effectively for other forms of farming upon which our economic future depends.

Interesting enough when it comes to actually purchasing eggs only about 10 percent of consumers buy free range eggs, and this figure has remained more or less static for some years.

Battery chicken farming is an emotive topic. As the Minister what I am focused on is taking practical and realistic steps to alleviate the conditions under which animals are kept. Animal welfare is high on my agenda.

You may be interested to know the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has been working on a series of codes which ensure that animals are not inhumanely treated.

The three most recent of these have been for hens, cats and pigs, and these have made significant improvements to the conditions under which these animals are housed and farmed.

I am well aware that the present codes do not deliver all of the changes that some groups would like to see. But for the codes to be enforceable they must be workable. That means in practical terms gaining the confidence and co-operation of farmers and producers. We can best proceed by a series of steps rather than by sudden, and enforced change, which is likely to generate opposition which negates the progress made.

There is to be a further review in 2009 and I hope that as a result we can make further progress in improving the conditions under which we farm animals in this country.

There is a website you can consult at which will connect you to the MAF animal welfare group, and this will give you a detailed update on progress which is being made in improving animal welfare codes.