As cage-free egg farming is expanded around the world, some in the field are asking if the current round, metal tube perch design is the best for bird performance and welfare. On the welfare side, perches fulfill the hen’s natural desire to perch and give less dominant birds a way to escape more aggressive ones. From a management standpoint, including perches reduces aggressive behaviors and gives the farmer more usable space inside the layer house.
At the Egg Industry Center’s Egg Industry Issues Forum, the attendees asked whether the perch is as beneficial as it can be for the hen and the farmer, and discussed innovations that could improve the devices. The conference took place April 19 and 20, in Columbus, Ohio. READ MORE
Dozens of farms were being checked in the Netherlands, and Belgium's food safety agency was probing how the anti-tick and flea pesticide Fipronil might have entered eggs destined for supermarkets. Fipronil is banned in products for treating animals like chickens that are part of the human food chain.
European Commission spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen said Thursday that ''the eggs are blocked. The contaminated eggs have been traced and withdrawn from the market and the situation is under control.''
Belgian food authorities say suspect eggs have been destroyed and there is no danger to public health given the small amounts of the pesticide that might have entered any eggs that reached the market.
“Few of us consider the events after we bring a bag of chicken feed home; we just know our birds like us to keep the feeder full,” says Patrick Biggs, Ph.D., a flock nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition. “Have you ever thought about what happens between when a hen eats at the feeder and when she lays an egg 24 to 26 hours later?”
To help answer this question, Biggs recently discussed bird anatomy with two bloggers: The Chicken Chick, Kathy Shea Mormino, and The Garden Fairy, Julie Harrison. During a tour of the Purina Animal Nutrition Center in Gray Summit, Mo., he explained once a crumble or pellet is consumed by a bird, it travels through a unique pathway for digestion with each ingredient serving a specific purpose.
“Chickens are excellent converters of feed, channeling those nutrients directly into their eggs,” says Biggs. “Laying hens need 38 different nutrients to stay healthy and produce eggs. Think of a complete chicken feed as a casserole - it’s a mixture of ingredients where each part adds up to a perfectly balanced whole. Each ingredient is the digested by the hen, with many of them working together for bird health and egg production.”
Ready to find out where chicken feed goes once eaten? Follow the journey beyond the feeder:
Eating on the go
While chickens need to eat to stay healthy just as people do, a bird’s digestive anatomy is quite different than ours.
“Chickens don’t have teeth and they are a prey animal, so they can’t waste much time chewing,” explains Biggs. “Instead, they swallow food quickly and store it away. The crop, a pouch-like organ meant solely for storage, is the first pit stop feed will encounter.”
Within the crop, very little digestion occurs. Feed will combine with water and some good bacteria to soften food particles before moving through the system. The feed in the crop will be released to the rest of the digestive tract throughout the day.
The chicken stomach
The next stop in the feed journey is the proventriculus, which is equivalent to the human stomach. This is where digestion really begins in the bird. Stomach acid combines with pepsin, a digestive enzyme, to start the breakdown of feed into smaller pieces.
“For birds, feed doesn’t spend much time in the proventriculus,” Biggs says. “Instead, it quickly moves to the gizzard where the real fun begins. The gizzard is the engine of the digestive system - it’s a muscle meant for grinding food particles. Since chickens lack teeth, they need a different method of mechanically digesting food. Historically, this is where grit would play a big role; however, many of today’s complete layer feeds include the necessary nutrients without a need for grit.”
Absorbing the magic
Nutrients are then absorbed through the small intestine and passed into the bloodstream. These absorbed nutrients are used for building feathers, bones, eggs and more. Many of these essential nutrients must be provided through the diet.
“For example, methionine is an essential amino acid, that must be provided through the diet,” explains Biggs. “Like all amino acids, methionine comes from protein sources and is needed at the cellular level to build specific proteins used for feathering, growth, reproduction and egg production.”
This is also where calcium and other minerals are absorbed into the blood stream to be stored for bone strength and shell production.
Building an egg
“In addition to absorbing nutrients to stay healthy, hens also channel feed nutrients directly into their eggs,” says Biggs.
The yolk is formed first. The yolk color comes from fat-soluble pigments, called xanthophylls, which are found in a hen's diet. Hens may direct marigold extract from the feed to create vibrant orange yolks and omega-3 fatty acids to produce more nutritious eggs.
Next, the shell is formed around the contents of the egg in the shell gland. This is where shell color is created. Most shells start white and then color is added. Breeds like Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Marans, Ameraucanas or Easter Eggers, will apply pigments to transform white eggs to brown, blue or green.
No matter the shell color, calcium is essential at this stage. Calcium travels to the shell gland via the bloodstream. Hens channel calcium first into their eggs and then into their bones. If a hen doesn’t have enough calcium, she will still form the eggshell but her bone strength may suffer which could lead to osteoporosis.
“There are two types of calcium chickens need: fast release and slow release,” Biggs explains. “Fast release calcium is found in most layer feeds and breaks down quickly. This quick release is important for bird health, but can leave a void after hens have eaten and are forming eggs at night.”
“Slow release calcium breaks down over time so hens can channel the calcium when they need it most for shell development,” continues Biggs.
A new research study shows the majority of keel bone damage originates from collisions with perches inside the layer house.
Dr. Maja Makagon, assistant professor of applied animal behavior at University of California, Davis’ Department of Animal Science, discussed the results of a study conducted to analyze keel bone damage in a layer environment. Makagon, who spoke on April 19 as part of the Egg Industry Center Egg Industry Issues Forum in Columbus, Ohio, said the study utilized accelerometers and 3D imaging technology to study the force of the collisions and measure their effects on the keel bone.
The keel is an extension of the sternum that provides an anchor for the bird’s wing muscles and provides leverage for flight. As laying hens are being removed from a conventional cage environment, Makagon said, keel integrity is increasingly seen as an indicator of animal welfare. Damaged keels are associated with increased mortality, reduced egg production and egg quality, and keel damage is likely associated with pain for the animal. READ MORE
Nutrition plays a significant role in minimizing cracks within the flock. A properly balanced feed will give the laying hen the nutrients she requires to produce an egg a day, along with the shell needed to protect that egg. The three main nutrients that nutritionists typically take into consideration when shell quality problems arise are calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D3. These three nutrients each play a crucial role in shell formation. The calcium status of a laying hen is very important because the hen must consume enough calcium to lay down an egg shell each day, as well as supporting her health and wellbeing. In addition to this, she must replenish the calcium stores within the body so calcium is available for use the next day. The calcium required to create the shell is obtained from two different forms, the medullary bone reserves and directly from the feed she consumes. Medullary bone reserves of calcium are located within the long bones of the body and the hen is able to mobilize these reserves to supply part of the calcium required to produce the egg shell every day. The remaining calcium required for the egg shell is obtained from dietary calcium comes from the digestive tract and is directly absorbed into the bloodstream. A deficiency in calcium will cause an immediate decrease in shell quality and if prolonged, the medullary bone reserves can become depleted. A hen in this state will begin to suffer a deterioration in egg shell quality, mobility problems, and soft bones. Phosphorus is also important as it plays a key role in the storage of calcium in the medullary bone reserves. Calcium is stored in these reserves as calcium phosphate, and for that reason phosphorus must be available in order for these reserves to be replenished. Finally, vitamin D3 plays an important role in egg shell quality because it promotes calcium absorption from the digestive tract into the blood stream of the bird. Once absorbed, the calcium is available to become part of medullary bone reserves to be laid down as part of the shell or for maintenance calcium requirements used to maintain the existing skeletal frame of the hen. Additional calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D3. can be added to the diet when egg shell quality issues arise on farm, however this should be done in close consultation with your nutritionist as any imbalances in these nutrients can cause further deterioration to egg shell quality. While additional nutrients may help solve the problem, nutrition cannot be looked at in isolation as many factors contribute to these situations. For example, if the hen is not consuming enough feed, changes need to be made in the barn to encourage this consumption. Because shell quality issues are typically complex and have many contributing factors, nutritionists will focus on balancing the nutrition, while also considering environmental issues that may be contributing to the problem.
It takes approximately twenty-one hours for the shell to be laid on the egg and a significant portion of this high calcium demand takes place when the lights are off. Consequently, feed management plays a key role in maintaining shell quality. It is important to make sure that the feeders are being run close to when the lights go off in the barn to ensure the hen is able to consume adequate calcium to support egg shell formation through the dark period. In addition to the importance of feed timing, the form of calcium being provided in that feed can impact the ability of the hen to create a high quality egg shell. Providing large particle calcium as a portion of the calcium in the feed will give the hen a source of calcium that is retained for a longer period of time. This is because large particle calcium is less soluble than fine particle and will remain in the gizzard longer, making it available during the dark period when the bird is not consuming feed. Research has proven that the hen also has a specific appetite for calcium and her appetite changes throughout the day. By providing a portion of calcium as large particle calcium, the hen is able to selectively regulate her calcium intake throughout the day as her appetite for calcium changes. In the late afternoon, when the demand for calcium is highest in the hen, having large particle calcium available allows her to choose to increase calcium consumption to meet her needs.
Stress is known to cause disruption to the egg formation process which can lead to misshapen eggs, wrinkled and thin shells, as well as discoloured shells in brown egg strains. Stresses in the barn can come in many forms, including disease, heat stress, excessive and sudden noises, mismanagement or failure of lighting programs, poor barn environment, and aggression from other birds. These types of stresses can cause a disruption to the egg formation process because they will cause the hen to either hold on to her egg or lay the egg too soon. Because stress influences the timing of the egg being laid, there can be an ongoing effect in the following days as the sequence of eggs has been disrupted and it takes time to get this corrected within the hen’s body. Taking the time to observe what is happening in your barn will help you in the long run. This includes ensuring the inlets and fans are providing adequate air flow, double checking that the lights are going on and off at the times they are set for, and observing bird behavior to look for signs of disease or aggression. Solving these problems as soon as possible by changing fan settings, adjusting lighting schedules, dimming lights to control aggression, and contacting a vet if a disease is suspected will minimize stressors in your barn and have a positive impact on egg shell quality.
The incidence of cracks is also affected by the age of the bird. When the hens are young and first coming into production, there can be some thin or shell-less eggs. This could be caused by the immaturity of the reproductive tract. Typically this only happens to one or two eggs before the reproductive tract begins to function correctly. The incidence of thin shells can increase as birds get older because the eggs become larger. As eggs get larger, the amount of shell material being contributed to each egg remains virtually the same. Consequently, the shell has more surface area to cover, which may lead to thinner shells that are more prone to cracks. Using management and nutrition tools to manage the egg size within the flock will help minimize the increase in cracks as the flock ages. This includes working with nutritionists to review the diets to ensure that the nutrients are being fed at the appropriate levels for the age of hen, stage of production, and egg size. This will help prolong eggs in the large category, rather than encouraging an increase in egg size.
Egg collecting equipment such as egg belts, transfer points, escalators, packers, and egg saver wires can also contribute to cracks in the barn. Any aspect of these systems that contributes to the rough handling of eggs as they move through the system can increase the incidence of cracks. Being diligent in inspecting and reviewing the equipment, as well as the frequency of egg collection, on a regular basis will help to minimize cracks being caused by mechanical damage. A regular routine can be established by ensuring maintenance logs are kept with details of problems found and how they were fixed, as well as posting a regular maintenance schedule that all employees have access to.
While it is impossible to completely eliminate all egg shell quality issues within a laying hen flock, a reduction in the numbers of eggs lost over time is possible. Working closely with your nutritionist to use nutritional strategies is one option to maintaining optimum shell quality. Managing the many factors within your barn that can contribute to decreased shell quality, such as feed management, stress, and egg collection equipment, will also have a positive influence on shell quality. Combining good management practices with respect to barn environment, and management as well as building a strong relationship with a nutritionist will optimize your chances of decreasing the number of damaged eggs being produced, which means a healthier flock and more money in your pocket.
May 16, 2016 - Merial hosted more than 500 participants at its 4th Merial Global Avian Forum in Barcelona to address opportunities in meeting the global demand for an abundant supply of safe and affordable source of protein. Poultry and egg producers, and top avian health scientists and experts from 70 countries shared information about solutions to efficiently prevent and control disease, strategies to increase productivity of poultry flocks and maximize efficiency of the poultry producers’ businesses.
The growth of the global population, and expanding middle class populations and incomes in many developing countries, will require more than 30 per cent more animal protein worldwide by the year 2030. As a result, poultry producers are advancing their business models to deliver a greater quantity of healthy chicken meat at affordable prices. In a more complex and global environment, poultry production requires all-encompassing and evolving strategies that address infrastructure, production systems, disease prevention and sustainability.
“As vast, multi-national poultry producers strive to safely produce more protein than ever before, Merial works side by side with them in every region of the world, to improve the health and productivity of flocks and to increase the efficiency and profitability of their business,” said Jérôme Baudon, Global Head of the Avian Business at Merial.
Presentations and workshops during the forum explored global and regional poultry management trends; the evolution of emerging and re-emerging avian diseases; and current and future diagnostics and vaccine technologies.
In an opening session, Rabobank Animal Protein Senior Analyst Nan-Dirk Mulder discussed the opportunity for producers to benefit from poultry being the fastest growing protein market, due to the low production costs, the health benefits of chicken meat, and consumer preference for affordability and convenience. He addressed the importance of production efficiency advances in light of the increasing pressures of global animal disease, supply and distribution challenges, food safety, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Mr. Mulder also provided insight into the business models of the different regions and the import/export dynamics in a globalizing poultry industry.
Several interactive discussions focused on the prevalence - often with considerable differences in regions - and evolution of (re)emerging diseases in the world, including respiratory diseases (avian influenza, Newcastle disease virus (NDV), Marek’s disease, infectious bronchitis, mycoplasmosis and infectious laryngotracheitis) and digestive diseases (caused by viruses, bacteria, coccidia, Histomonas and other parasites).
Other presentations examined strategies to prevent and control these highly endemic diseases, which have the potential to threaten entire flocks and cause significant quality, supply and economic losses. These sessions addressed a range of approaches to protect more birds from disease with greater convenience, less expense and reduced environmental impact, including:
- Disease diagnostic and vaccine monitoring tools
- Current and new vector vaccines in development
- Vaccination delivery methods and equipment solutions
- Hatchery automation and management techniques
- Flock management, cleaning & disinfection
At the meeting, Merial announced updates on the use of its novel NeO effervescent tablet vaccine formulation, a simple, convenient and eco-friendly vaccine formulation that launched in September 2015. The NeO tablets are packaged in lightweight aluminum blisters and dissolved in water for spray, eye drop or drinking water administration, delivering enhanced convenience for the poultry farmers, safety for the birds and environmental benefits. The Avinew NeO effervescent tablet vaccine is already available in 16 countries for immunization against NDV and continues to roll-out globally. Merial also presented a product Life Cycle Assessment study comparing the environmental impact of the new NeO effervescent tablet solution to the existing Avinew™ vial packaging by looking at resources, and carbon and water footprint indicators. In France, the NeO packaging reduced climate impact by 80 percent, decreased resources by 70 percent, and reduced water use by 70 percent as a result of a reduction in raw materials, cold storage, and freight and distribution. The study revealed that NeO packaging is less impacting regardless of geography, and that important savings are made for every life cycle stage.
The Merial Global Avian Forum also recognized the 10-year anniversary of Merial’s pioneering VAXXITEK HVT+IBD vector vaccine, used to protect flocks against Marek’s disease and Gumboro disease, two common yet threatening immunosuppressive diseases. Administered in the hatchery, the vaccine allows for immunization against both diseases with a single vaccine dose. VAXXITEK HVT+IBD is one of several offerings supported by Merial’s pioneering VTS (VaccinationTechnology and Services) teams. These dedicated field experts around the world work closely with customers at hatcheries and farms by delivering equipment, support, audits and training to help manage flock health and productivity.
Probiotics are live organisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host through improvements to the intestinal microbial balance. In poultry production, interest in probiotics stems from their use as alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters and also as a strategy for control of intestinal colonization with enteric microbes that cause food-borne illness in humans, e.g. Salmonella. The mechanism of action of probiotics in poultry is thought to include the maintenance of normal intestinal microbiota, changes in metabolism and improvements to feed intake and digestion. Administration of probiotics has been shown to improve weight gain and feed utilization and to decrease mortality of poultry. Treatment with probiotic bacteria, particularly Lactobacilli, is capable of modulating multiple aspects of immune responses and can also enhance immune competence in chickens.
Despite the beneficial effects, a limited number of probiotic products are currently available with proven immune enhancing capabilities in chickens. Dr. Shayan Sharif and his research team from the University of Guelph have developed a defined probiotic formulation containing several Lactobacilli with the ability to enhance immune responses and reduce Salmonella burden in chickens. These Lactobacilli were obtained from the intestines of healthy chickens, as these bacteria are normal inhabitants of the chicken intestine. Effects on growth, feed efficiency, immune system development and immune responsiveness of birds were measured to further evaluate this probiotic formulation and to determine its safety and optimal route of administration. The long-term objective of this research is to develop cost-effective probiotic formulations for chickens that can enhance production, reduce colonization of food-borne pathogens and enhance immune competence.
THE EXPERIMENTS AND THE RESULTS
The safety of the selected probiotic formulation was assessed to ensure its suitability for use as a probiotic product. Laboratory (in vitro) and live-bird (in vivo) trials demonstrated that the probiotic formulation was capable of decreasing Salmonella colonization at specific doses, and could be delivered via a number of ways without reducing its effectiveness. Administration of this probiotic formulation into eggs (in ovo) had no adverse effects on hatchability and general condition of the hatching chicks. Chicks all had Lactobacillus present in their intestines at the time of hatch. The post-hatch growth performance of broilers that received probiotics was examined and the overall body weight gain, feed intake and feed conversion ratio were comparable to those of the chickens receiving growth promoting antibiotics in their rations. Chicks received the probiotic treatment on day of hatch or in ovo to determine how early colonization with probiotic Lactobacilli affects the development of the intestine. Overall the results demonstrate the ability of probiotic formulations to promote the development of the intestine.
In order to determine the effects of early administration of the probiotic formulation on the stimulation of immune response and protective immunity, the researchers measured the antigen-specific antibody response to Avian Influenza Virus in chickens treated with the probiotic on the day of hatch. Results show that probiotic treatment improves the overall immunity of chickens and their ability to fend off influenza virus. The immune enhancing activity of the probiotic formulation was not limited to immunity against avian influenza virus and similar results were obtained when the probiotic formulation was used with a Salmonella vaccine. Overall, this study showed that under normal conditions, there is virtually no difference in some of the key production parameters in broilers fed antibiotic- or probiotic-supplemented diets. Also, chickens fed probiotics had lower Salmonella burden in their intestines and also had higher immunity against avian influenza virus and Salmonella.
The findings show that this probiotic formulation is safe and highly effective in terms of reducing Salmonella burden in broiler chickens. This Lactobacillus-based probiotic has the capacity to enhance broiler immune competence of broilers. Comparison of the effects of probiotics and antibiotics on production parameters found that probiotics and growth promoting antibiotics had comparable effects on these parameters. This research demonstrates that probiotics can provide a safe and effective feed supplement in broiler production.
This research was funded by the Canadian Poultry Research Council and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
January 13, 2016 - A team of researchers at Kansas State University, in collaboration with Garcia-Sastre of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has developed a vaccine that protects poultry from multiple strains of avian influenza found in the U.S., including H5N1, H5N2 and H5N8. The vaccine has the potential to be administered through water or into embryonated eggs, making it easier for poultry producers to vaccinate flocks.
The vaccine, called NDV-H5Nx, protects chickens and likely other poultry against the three recently introduced U.S. avian influenza strains H5N1, H5N2 and H5N8, as well as against Newcastle disease virus — a virus that naturally affects poultry. Avian influenza killed millions of chickens and turkeys in the U.S. in spring and summer 2015, leading to billions in lost revenue for the U.S. poultry industry.
The NDV-H5Nx vaccine also has the potential to be administered to millions of birds at a time through water, said Jürgen Richt, Regents distinguished professor of veterinary medicine, director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases at Kansas State University and one of the researchers involved in the discovery.
"The vaccine we produced is a live vaccine, which means it replicates in birds," Richt said. "Because it's live, we believe that the vaccine could be sprayed into the air or put in the water supply so that when the chickens need a drink, they could be vaccinated. A poultry farm could vaccinate all of its birds in a single day because all living creatures need water to live."
The vaccine also has potential to be administered to developing chicks in eggs, resulting in offspring being automatically vaccinated for the diseases, said Wenjun Ma, Kansas State University assistant professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology and one of the researchers involved.
H5 vaccines currently on the market require that each chicken be injected by hand. Many poultry operations have millions of birds and it would take many hours to vaccinate every chicken, Richt said.
Additionally, the NDV-H5Nx vaccine has the ability to differentiate infected from vaccinated animals, or DIVA. This compatibility is critical for the U.S. poultry industry because it provides evidence to trade partners that poultry have been vaccinated and is free of H5, Richt said.
Researchers developed the NDV-H5Nx vaccine with a recombinant virus technique similar to the one used to make NDV-H5N1 and NDV-H7N9 vaccines in 2015. The extracellular domain of the H5 or H7 protein of the respective avian influenza viruses was transplanted into the Newcastle disease virus vaccine strain LaSota in order to make the vaccine constructs.
The three H5Nx strains are genetically similar but cause different disease severity in birds. The H5N2 strain is most prominent in the U.S. and the deadliest. The original H5N8 avian influenza strain was first found in South Korea in 2014 and subsequently in other Asian countries, including China and Japan, before spreading to Europe. It came to North America as H5N8 where it mixed with other avian influenza viruses in the U.S. and Canada to form H5N2 and H5N1, Ma said.
"The H5 avian influenza strains affect poultry worldwide and have a 100 percent mortality rate in chickens within six days," Ma said.
Kansas State University researchers developed and tested the NDV-H5Nx vaccine against H5N2, the deadliest strain, in the course of three months. The rapid vaccine development — which included vaccine production, H5Nx animal model development and efficacy testing — is a testament to Kansas State University's ability to quickly respond to emerging foreign animal diseases, Richt said.
"This was very much a team project and something that we couldn't have done in this time frame if it wasn't for teamwork," Richt said. "For diseases it's critical to have a multidisciplinary approach. Kansas State University has the expertise, resources and environment necessary to do this work and make this multidisciplinary approach work."
Richt and Ma presented the project along with the proof-of-concept vaccination methods at a recent meeting of stakeholders and leaders in the U.S. agricultural industry, including the chicken and turkey industries, who will be helpful in the further development and adoption of the NDV-H5Nx vaccine. Researchers are currently preparing to publish their findings in a scientific journal.
The project was funded through the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility's research project transitional funds and Avimex. NBAF, under construction adjacent to Kansas State University's Manhattan campus, will be the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's foremost animal disease research facility and will study high-consequence animal diseases that affect the nation's agriculture and biosecurity.
According to The Toronto Star, the judge cited that the birds experienced "undue suffering" in severe winter weather on way to the Brampton processing plant. The verdict is just part of a larger case against the company, which includes 58 criminal charges.
“The driver … was instructed to load the birds, and notwithstanding the weather [between -9 and -16 C], he did so, regardless of the condition of the hens,” the judge said.
For more information, please visit The Toronto Star.
According to the coalition, the research will aid food companies and other organizations in making purchasing decisions that are ethically grounded, scientifically verified and economically viable.
Earlier this year, Dr. Janice Siegford from Michigan State University (MSU) shared some of the preliminary results at the sixth Annual Animal Research Symposium at the University of Guelph.
Siegford and her team are studying hen welfare and behaviour in aviary systems, in co-operation with research teams from the University of California and Iowa State University, evaluating all three systems for environmental quality, human health, food safety and economics. “So we’re really trying to do a whole system analysis so that the data we get out of this can be put into context,” says Siegford.
The need for this research stems from a combination of public pressure and regulatory changes: in some U.S. states, new regulations dictate that laying hens must have room to stand and stretch their wings without touching the cage.
Since conventional cages are no longer an option, producers are left deciding which system is best to transition into. Research has been limited on the subject, and more often than not, focused on conventional systems.
“Do these alternative systems actually improve welfare?” asks Siegford. “We’re giving them these things, but are we giving them in a way that’s meaningful to the hen?”
No matter which factors you consider – economics, welfare or food safety – research shows that no system is perfect. “We haven’t got it perfect yet, for sure,” Siegford says. “With the enriched system, there are a lot of nice features in terms of providing the hens with the different kinds of environmental features that they might like, keeping things like cannibalism to a minimum, keeping disease transmission on a low scale, etc.”
She points out that the enriched system still preserves some of the good aspects of the conventional system; for example, hens still drop eggs into clean nests. Rollout belts are used so that eggs stay clean and there is not as much potential for breakage or egg loss. Droppings are carried away on belts and kept contained, so from an environmental and food safety standpoint, they’re very clean.
“And you still have pretty good feed efficiency and feed conversion,” says Siegford. “One of the issues with hens when you move to some of the other housing systems, is that if you put fewer hens in a building, they’re generating less body heat and then you have to feed them more to increase heat or pump more heat into the building.
“With the enriched systems, you can still have a fairly large number of hens per square foot, so you still avoid some of those problems. If you’ve got hens that are constantly outside of their thermal-neutral zone, then it becomes a welfare issue.”
When it comes to hen welfare, though, the best option for laying hens is dependent on their strain. “If you have hens that are fairly mellow and not likely to pick on each other, then putting them in an aviary system does give them a lot of behavioural freedom. They can make a lot of choices, have a lot of control over how they spend their day, and then they’re not likely to suffer being picked on or pecked at by other hens.”
Unfortunately, though, a lot of the high-producing strains do pick on one another. “You can’t just say that the aviary’s universally better for welfare for all hens because cannibalism is obviously really an ugly problem,” says Siegford.
“Sometimes you give chickens the freedom of choice and they do some pretty awful things to each other.”
Another welfare issue with hens is bone breakage. Regardless of which system you use, bone breakage will always be an issue. The same is true with feather loss, which occurs around their necks from feeding in caged systems. In the non-caged and outdoor free-range systems, feather loss problems are a result of pecking.
As Siegford and her team at MSU reviewed the preliminary data, they were most surprised by the perching behaviour of the hens. Although the aviaries provided perches on all three levels, their usage was not as evenly distributed as the researchers expected.
“When you look at those hens perching at night, even though within each level the perches are six inches above the floor, they still cram into the top level to perch at night,” says Siegford. “You see the most birds up top, an intermediate number of birds in the middle and very few birds on that bottom level.
“So even though we’re providing them in the furnished cages, we still haven’t gotten the perches right yet,” she continues.
Siegford credits producers and manufacturers with being innovative, though. “Most of them are making an effort to provide hens with things like perches, nesting areas, litter potentially for dust bathing, things of that nature, that hens have demonstrated to be strongly motivated to perform or that do substantially improve welfare. But it’s just not that simple.”
As producers transition from conventional to new alternative systems, it is important to know that considerable liabilities still exist in terms of economic efficiency, hen welfare and biosecurity, and it cannot be assumed that non-cage systems will improve hen welfare to a level that is acceptable to both producers and consumers.
Although enriched systems appear to be the best choice, the jury is still out. While the data has not yet been analyzed, Siegford’s team has finished collecting information from the second flock and its final report should be available sometime in 2014.
Petrik’s research will set a baseline for welfare parameters in floor and conventional cage barns for laying hens, comparing the incidence of keel bone fracture rates and feather condition between the two housing systems.
Although it is scientifically established that hens in conventional cages have weaker bones than cage-free hens due to lack of exercise (one of the welfare concerns of cages), the high-producing hen of today typically depletes the calcium in her bones, which leads to osteoporosis and fragile bones. In non-cage systems there is an increased risk for injury – even though hens’ bones are stronger. The keel bone, which is the pointed bone where the breast muscles attach (similar to the sternum in humans), seems to be one of the most affected. Fractures and deformities of keel bones have become one of the top welfare issues of the laying hen.
While studies have been done in Europe, Petrik says this is the first study of its kind in North America: “Since our production methods, housing densities, nutrition and egg size targets are quite different, our rates may be quite different.”
Petrik collected data from 10 cage-housed systems and 10 floor barns (“free-run”) at 20 farms across Ontario, using all brown birds for consistency. Fifty birds were weighed at each location and feather scored at four different stages of lay. He also checked production and mortality records for the possibility of any correlated data and assessed flocks at different ages in order to determine when the majority of these fractures occur.
Overall, the results are showing that keel bone breakage rates in Ontario birds are similar to those in the rest of the world.
To test if a hen’s keel bones was broken, Petrik tested a palpation procedure proposed by a group out of Bristol, U.K. As part of his study, a group of masters students each palpated 100 birds, showing the palpation procedure to be reliable and accurate. Petrik then used this palpation technique to evaluate live birds in different stages of lay. Using this technique means that the hens don’t need to be euthanized to be assessed, allowing the use of this type of assessment in a welfare audit. The technique also allows repeated measures to be taken in a single flock, giving some idea as to time of incidence of the fracture.
Petrik still has a lot of questions: How do they break their keel bone? In non-caged housing, birds will fly but they are lousy at landing, often crashing into water bowls, feed bowls, other birds and even stumbling on the floor. But in caged housing, are the birds just fragile?
“It’s hard to say,” ponders Petrik, when bone strength and hardness are noticeably higher when birds are kept on the floor, not housed in cages, and yet breakage rates are still higher.
His suspicion is that in cage systems the breakage comes from the pressure put on the keel bone while the hen squats on the cage bottom to rest or sleep with their entire weight on their keel bone, but he has no proof. “Like most things, the more you find out, the less you know,” he says. He sees keel breakage as a multi-factorial issue, one where “we don’t even understand causation well yet.”
The final results will be released by December. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Egg Farmers of Canada have provided funding for the study.
To learn about U.S.-based research regarding various types of hen housing and their effects on environmental quality, human health, food safety and economics, see page 34.
This new regular series of articles is part of the communications plan of the Poultry Welfare Centre. For more information, visit the Canadian Virtual Centre for Poultry Welfare at http://poultrywelfarecentre.ca/
October 25, 2012 - The Midwest Poultry Federation (MPF) Convention continues to grow in 2013, with additional booth space added to the show and a mobile app in the works. The dates of the 42nd annual show are March 12-14, 2013 in Saint Paul, Minn.
The convention – featuring a pre-show nutrition symposium on March 12 and exhibits and educational sessions on March 13-14 – will convene at Saint Paul RiverCentre in downtown Saint Paul. Also held in conjunction with the 2013 MPF Convention will be the North Central Avian Disease Conference, scheduled for March 11-12 at the same location.
“Last year MPF expanded into a second hall, which proved to be an excellent way to bring additional exhibiting companies into the convention,” said 2013 MPF President Allen Behl. “This year, we’re expanding the second hall to include even more booths. It’s definitely an exciting time for MPF!”
Plans are in the works, as well, to offer attendees a mobile app for their iPhone, iPad or Android devices. “Smartphones and tablet computers certainly have changed the way people organize their lives and businesses,” said MPF Executive Director Steve Olson. “Our new app will allow attendees to have instant access at their fingertips to the two exhibit halls and the list of exhibiting companies, education sessions, real-time surveys and feedback, and much more. We’re working on the development of the app now and will debut the finished product in February.”
Further details on the 2013 show will be available later this year, with registration and hotel reservations opening online for attendees on December 7. For more information, visit MPF’s Web site, www.midwestpoultry.com and connect with us on Facebook www.facebook.com/MPFConvention) and Twitter (@MPFConvention) or use the Twitter hashtag #mpf13.
March 16, 2012 - VAL-CO®has introduced a Community Nest with new winchable slats providing easy-to-clean, comfortable and easily-accessed nesting for hens.
Designed around the natural behavior of hens, VAL-CO’s Community Nest is an inviting and practical nest that provides an ideal location in a barn for hens to lay their eggs.
The new winchable slat design, unique to VAL-CO, is a key feature in improving hygiene while saving considerable time and labor in cleaning the nest and recovering drier, higher-quality manure. Waterproof PVC foam board is also used in the nesting area, which creates a more bird-friendly environment, helps ease the cleaning process and improves productivity. Because the Community Nest is easier to clean, it is less likely than conventional designs to harbor disease or parasites.
“The nesting area is comfortable, protected and well ventilated, so it’s very attractive for egg laying,” said Sean Francey, VAL-CO Product Manager. “Combined with the welfare-friendly expeller, these features increase egg production and reduce brooding.”
The Community Nest is made with durable components and designed for easy assembly. The nest is suitable for either a high-rise or floor-mounted installation, and is available in center-belt configurations with new winchable or standard slat packages to suit each customer’s poultry environment.
“The design of the VAL-CO Community Nest makes a big difference in terms of overall cleanliness, less maintenance and keeping hens producing good-quality eggs,” remarked Quarryville, Pennsylvania poultry grower John Harnish.
The VAL-CO Community Nest meets American Humane Society standards for cage-free egg production, with hens having open access to nesting and space for roaming.
Hand to hand transfers are no longer part of the transportation system for spent fowl in Ontario.
A modular transportation system has been developed for Maple Lodge that utilizes carts to move the birds from their cages to the trucks, Al Dam, the provincial poultry specialist at OMAFRA said at a Poultry Industry Council producer update in London.
Dam said the change, which took effect Feb. 13, improves animal welfare and has undergone several months of trials. Under the old system, the hens were carried to crates. Under the new system, a small trolley is rolled into the barn and the hens placed in plastic drawers on the trolley.
The trolley is eight drawers high and 48 inches deep, 18 inches wide and 78 inches tall and taller than a regular pullet cart. Each drawer is almost the same area as a chicken crate.
To accommodate the new system a staging area will be needed at the farm to ensure safety. A loaded cart and a man will weight about 1,000 lbs. so the loading dock must be able to handle the load.
Modified pullet trailers have been developed that will move the carts from the farm to Maple Lodge for processing. The modified trailers can carry 480 crates compared to a regular truck that carries 784 crates.
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