A Nelson SPCA inspector is calling for a ban on the "horrible" practice of cutting off rooster combs for poultry shows.
The practice, called dubbing, is carried out only on old english game fowl roosters and is completely unnecessary, says Nelson SPCA inspector Craig Crowley.
Undubbed birds entered in poultry shows are ignored by judges.
Under the code of welfare for painful husbandry procedures, rooster combs, wattles and earlobes must be removed surgically by a veterinarian.
However, some people still cut off the combs themselves at home with scissors or knives, Mr Crowley said.
"I believe there are still people doing it."
Old english game fowl were traditionally a fighting breed and were used for cockfighting, which is illegal in New Zealand.
Poultry fanciers deny that dubbing is cruel, saying it is necessary because it stops the aggressive birds tearing at each other in the backyard.
Mr Crowley said this was not a good enough reason to continue with the practice.
"Every other rooster in other categories are the same, roosters will fight, but they don't dub birds in any other category – so your argument just falls over."
Mr Crowley has made his views clear to the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), which is responsible for developing codes of welfare under the Animal Welfare Act. The committee is reviewing the practice.
Mr Crowley said dubbing was horrible and stupid. "There's no point in it."
He felt so strongly about the issue that each year, he attended the annual Queen's Birthday Nelson Poultry and Pigeon Association Show to "stir them up".
He said he demanded to see certificates from vets, proving that combs had been surgically removed.
However, members made it "awkward" for him – telling him to wait until the birds had been "de-benched" at the end of the show.
"And I said, `Well, that's a waste of time for me. I want to find out what's going on before the show, because you shouldn't be showing illegal birds'."
New Plymouth man Ian Selby, one of New Zealand's top poultry judges, said NAWAC was considering banning dubbing, which was not right.
"If it's banned, the SPCA will get more complaints about people keeping birds that are injured and maimed.
"Dubbing is not a cruelty thing – it's a management thing."
He said that when judging, he walked straight past old english game fowl roosters that were not dubbed.
"That person should know better, because that is cruel. That is allowing that bird, if they get out, to maim themselves.
"I think there has been more made of this issue by Nelson people than what meets the eye. Nelson is the only area in New Zealand that has complained."
Ten years ago, NAWAC told New Zealand old english game fowl breeders that dubbing should be done by a vet or under a vet's supervision.
Nelson Poultry and Pigeon Association patron Harold Sangster said he was not aware of members dubbing roosters at home without pain relief.
"I don't think they are, as you have to have a vet certificate before they accept your entries."
Mr Sangster breeds the variety, and said a vet came to his house to dub the birds. Before the rules were changed, he did the job himself with scissors or a knife.
"I have had them for over 60 years and we always just dubbed them ourselves – that's just what happened.
"It's like they used to cut dogs' tails off. It was just the old way."
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry senior animal welfare adviser Kate Littin said NAWAC had encouraged poultry keepers to find other ways to manage birds so that dubbing was not required.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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