UC specialist contributes to column about chicken comfort

Sep 8, 2008

Bob Perkins, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, wrote an amusing opinion piece about Proposition 2 for today's Salinas Californian in which he speculated about the ability of Californians to decide what makes chickens happy.

Proposition 2 is an initiative on the November ballot aimed at improving farm animal welfare. For his column on the subject, Perkins spoke to UC Cooperative Extension poultry specialist emeritus Don Bell, who devoted a career to the study of poultry production.

In the world of farm animals, the story says, happiness is measured by animal health.

"(Bell) can tell you the precise amount of space hens need for optimum health. He can also tell you how many hens can live together, what mixtures of food they need at different times in their lives, what temperatures they like. He can tell you what makes a hen happy," Perkins wrote.

Perkins concludes that caged chickens aren't necessarily less happy than their free-range counterparts, who have space to spread their wings, but could be exposed to pests, predators, disease and attacks by other hens. In short, Perkins wrote, the chickens don't care.

Unfortunately, it will be impossible to get the final word on chicken happiness straight from the horse's mouth.

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By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist