Is the mechanisation of catching broilers a welfare improvement?
In most European countries broilers are currently caught manually: broilers are caught by the leg, inverted and carried by a catcher with 3–4 birds in each hand. This method of catching broiler chickens is a welfare concern as it causes severe stress to the birds. A possible alternative
to manual catching may be mechanical catching. The aim of this study was to compare the level of stress and injuries of broilers caught manually or with a harvesting machine (CIEMME Super Apollo L harvester) under commercial conditions. The results indicated that there was no significant difference
in plasma corticosterone concentrations and duration of tonic immobility, which suggested that mechanically caught broilers were no more stressed than those caught manually. At the end of the catching process, mechanically caught broilers had even lower plasma corticosterone concentrations
and shorter durations of tonic immobility, indicating that at this moment these broilers were less stressed than the manually caught birds. The incidence of wing haemorrhages was also reduced for broilers caught mechanically; however, there was no significant difference in the incidence of
haemorrhages in the breast or legs between the two catching methods. As injuries are associated with pain and stress, this parameter is important not only for the welfare of the birds but also for product quality and the subsequent financial return. Therefore, it can be concluded that the
use of the mechanical harvesting machine, CIEMME Super Apollo L, appears to be a good alternative to manual catching. Nevertheless, some aspects of mechanical catching require further improvement.