Farmer’s delight at RSPCA award

Michael Rutherford has received national recognition for the welfare work at his farm near Morpeth.

Thursday, 7th October 2021, 10:30 am
Michael Rutherford won the the ‘excellence in higher farm animal welfare’ category.

He has been chosen by an independent panel of judges as the winner of the ‘excellence in higher farm animal welfare’ category in RSPCA Assured’s first-ever awards for pig and poultry members.

It is a real family affair for Michael who – together with his wife, father and brother – run a RSPCA Assured organic farm where they not only keep 12,000 laying hens, but also 1,900 breeding ewes, a small suckler herd and 2,000 pigs throughout the year.

The judges stated that they were very impressed with his unwavering commitment to laying hen welfare.

Michael said: “I’m delighted to win this award. It is great to be acknowledged by RSPCA Assured for all the work the family have put in, keeping our hens happy and healthy.

“As well as providing lots of interesting enrichment items, we invest in good quality litter, ventilation and lighting, all of which help keep the birds calm and relaxed.

“Right from the start, we also made a decision to produce medium eggs – rather than the more popular large ones – which also helps reduce stress.

“Whenever a new flock arrives, we spend a lot of time with them so they get used to us and we can move around and monitor the birds closely without startling them.

“And if my hens are chatting to me, which they really do, I know they’re happy and I’m getting something right.”

RSPCA Assured is the RSPCA's farm animal welfare assurance scheme.

Michael rotates at least a dozen different types of enrichment at any one time both inside and outside the shed. These include pecking blocks, grit placed on the floor, in feeders, or in plastic bottles hung from the ceiling.

Hanging ropes with reflective discs, empty bottles and tennis balls are also firm favourites with his flocks.

Andrew Joret, one of the judges added: “What really stood out was Michael’s dedication to finding ways to prevent the need to beak-trim his flocks.

“Beak trimming is a contentious issue that will eventually be phased out, so for him to be getting ahead of the curve by already successfully managing non-beak trimmed flocks is a real inspiration.”