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Poultry vet passionate about welfare

Animal welfare captured Mike Petrik’s interest when he was student veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College, and received a small scholarship in fourth year to do an animal welfare project. After earning his DVM in 1998, Petrik completed his M.Sc in animal welfare at the UofG in 2013, through the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare, giving him the credentials he needed to work in this field.

“I’ve always felt that if we are going to benefit from the animals we farm, we need to provide them as much care and comfort as possible. We have to be practical, but we must do the best we can.”

“Right now, animal welfare is the biggest challenge in food animal production,” Petrik adds. “The industry has done a great job of producing safe and abundant food for consumers. But now consumers want more, they want that food produced in a way that they see as more humane.”

A major goal for Petrik has been working on the Recommended Codes of Practice, facilitated by the National Farm Animal Care Council, which sets out the guidelines for handling and care for each type of food animal. He has worked on several of the committees to revise these codes using his main area of expertise in laying hens.

The most obvious animal welfare issue for these birds, Petrik says, are cages. “We’ve been raising birds in cages for 70 years. That’s how we got healthy and abundant eggs for consumers, and no other housing system comes close to providing the health benefits that cages do for the birds. There is a downside, though: the birds can’t perform many of their natural behaviours.”

Petrik says there is no right answer to the question of housing for laying hens. “It depends what lens you are looking through. Farmers see the cages as good because the birds are healthier. Consumers who are not from farms feel this pales in comparison to the bird not being able to move around.”  I know many farmers feel badly for birds that are on the range, because they suffer from environmental stresses and diseases that are controlled in cage barns.”

Because of his experience working with egg farmers, Petrik says, “I know what is practical in the real world, and I can take a holistic view of the well-being of animals. I have both the veterinary perspective and the welfare science perspective.” He’s a strong advocate of having veterinarians on the front line of the animal welfare discussion.

Currently, Petrik is Director of Technical Services at McKinley Hatchery, where he’s helped achieve a very low level of disease and dramatic improvements in barn design and nutrition. He also contributes his expertise to the Ontario Animal Health Network Poultry team.

(As seen in the Fall 2016 issue of The Crest.  Read the entire issue on the OVCAA webpage.) 

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