The status of animal welfare practices among deep litter poultry farmers in Uganda
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Forty percent of Uganda’s population is engaged in poultry production to supply the growing population with poultry meat and eggs. From 2017 to 2020, Uganda’s population increased from 39 million to 41.6 million (National Population Council, 2020), increasing the market for poultry products. Consequently, farmers are intensifying production to serve the increasing market, changing from free range, to cages and deep litter management systems which is likely to compromise the welfare of poultry. This study aimed at assesses the status of animal welfare practice among layer poultry farms in Kampala and Wakiso districts. Data from 49 deep litter poultry farms, with birds above 3 months of age was collected using a questionnaire to assess farmer’s attitudes and practices, and a checklist to score the infrastructure and behavior of the flocks in reference to the five freedoms of animal welfare. Results indicated that 67.3% of farmers provide perches, designed from locally available material whereas 49% of the farms reported vices such as cannibalism, vent pecking and egg eating. Assessment of the litter quality showed that 43.9% of the farms had solid and caked litter. Biosecurity was a major concern because 46.9% had no functional house unit footbaths while 71.4% prepared no protective attire including overall and gumboots for farm workers. For disease control, only 95.9% had access to a veterinarian. Remarkably, all farms had flocks which were vaccinated against diseases. Water and feed were provided although the source of the feeds and water was variable according to the farms. In 40.8% of the farms, they had no feed program and those that had, relied on the expertise of the managers (32.7%), veterinarians (26.5) and feed ingredient suppliers (22.4%) to formulate. In 83.6% of the farms, nest boxes were provided although no provision was made to block direct light from the environment. Practices such as de-beaking were performed by a veterinarian on 65.3% of the farms while the rest of the farms had their own staff to do it. In summary, the farms visited so far attempted to provide feed, care, disease control and access of poultry to exercise which are good indicators of proper animal welfare. Measures to ensure freedom from hunger and thirst were the most practiced. Nevertheless, glaring loop holes were identified in biosecurity underscoring the need for sensitization training on the importance of animal welfare in optimizing production.