The Cluster, administered by the Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC), provides an opportunity for eligible projects to receive federal funding in addition to industry funding.
Researchers are invited to complete and submit our full proposal funding application form during this special call for proposals.
To be considered for funding, research projects must align with the outlined research priorities (see below) and the principal investigator must also work full-time in a Canadian institution or organization.
- Full project proposals will be reviewed and funding decisions made by July 31, 2017
- Projects that receive a positive funding decision will be included in the Poultry Research Cluster submission to Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (AAFC) in the Fall of 2017
- Projects approved by AAFC will begin no earlier than April 1, 2018
- Eligible projects must fall under the research priorities listed below in order to be considered
- Research priorities
- Hen behaviour and health in alternative housing systems, including housing system design, management and production practices, and pullet rearing
- End of flock management, including catching, loading and transport, and on-farm depopulation
- Hen health
- Gut health
- Dietary ingredients
- Environment and sustainability
- Production practices and technologies that decrease environmental impact and increase sustainability
They are also finding more research needs to be done.
Michelle Hunniford, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph, is researching the nesting behaviour of laying hens.
She has found that new ways of evaluating nesting behaviour are needed.
She told a session at the London Poultry Show that settling behavior, the process hens go through to find and get themselves comfortable to lay an egg, along with egg location should drive cage design evaluation. The speed that a hen gets to that comfort level is correlated to how much pecking it does to establish its space and how long it occupies nesting space.
The University of Guelph re-searchers observed hens through their waking period — lights came on at 5 a.m. — and recorded their behaviour.
They then created graphs that showed a “settled” laying hen moved through its settling phases in more defined periods compared to an “unsettled” layer hen.
In most enhanced systems, the layers have a nesting area, with flooring and a scratch area.
Hunniford and her colleagues looked at what nests would motivate hens to settle in the desired nesting areas.
They found it was difficult to predict which hens would lay where and some hens preferred one system while others chose another.
As a result, one of Hunniford’s recommendations include that providing two smaller nests is more important that providing one large, fully furnished nest. READ MORE
Jillian Jasper, self-proclaimed “head of the herd” at ABC (Animal Bedding Company) in Woodstock Ont., is a firm believer that producers should be taking a much closer look at their bedding choices. “We are told over and over by producers of poultry and every other livestock species that outside of a vet making bedding suggestions in times of health crises, [that they] are never approached to talk bedding,” she notes. “We believe that our products outperform straw, shavings, drywall, peat moss, sand and everything else on the market in terms of animal health and positive environmental inputs. When cull rates with our poultry clients consistently come back with zeroes for respiratory and zeroes for pad/leg health issues, it confirms our complete belief in what we offer.”
ABC provides bedding for poultry, cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and exotic animals. It was founded in 2013. Ray Batchelor, a retired Chrysler engineer, got all of the equipment and manufacturing processes up and running. Jeffrey Moore, a chartered professional accountant, runs the overall organization. Jasper takes the lead with sales, marketing and education, using skills gained earlier in her career in animal health pharmaceuticals. She says that during her years of representing other products, she was always searching for her own proprietary product to bring to market. About 15 years ago while showing her horses in Ohio, she came across bedding that appeared to be made from chopped-up cereal boxes. It never left her mind. “After years of research into adhesives, dyes, components of cardboard, other materials, packaging, and so on, I developed a cardboard product that seems simple,” she says, “but it is brought to its greatest potential through addressing the growing consciousness in the ag sector of better animal husbandry and environmental stewardship.”
HOOF-PRINT is one of the company’s five products. It manufactured by chopping up virgin corrugated cardboard, extracting the dust and compressing the product into 35-pound bales. It is free of salmonella, toxins, labels, tapes or inks, with what Jasper calls “an overwhelming absorption capacity.” After use, it turns into black, composted material in six to nine weeks.
TRACK-PRINT is a mineral bedding which is widely used in all species. It balances pH, absorbs moisture, is non-caustic, acts as a natural insecticide and reduces ammonia. It works similarly to diatomaceous earth, killing insects by scraping at their shells when they crawl through it but Jasper says it is better because it does not lose stability when exposed to moisture. She says it is very effective for darkling beetle control in poultry barns.
Bedding for each species required its own dedicated focus. “Eighty per cent of our market is poultry,” Jasper notes. “Initially, it was twenty per cent, but this changed rapidly as we educated and gained exposure in the poultry segment. Our products are very conducive to the biosecurity and general sensitivity of the poultry segment.” ABC distributes across Canada, and will currently ship to the U.S. if Canadian customers have operations there. “Holland is a big potential market for us,” Jasper adds. “We have both a dairy and poultry contingent in Holland…they are very innovative. They love our stuff. And all of those Holland connections come through our existing users.”
Both HOOF-PRINT and TRACK-PRINT are being trialed at many operations in southern Ontario.
Hybrid Turkeys recently trialed HOOF-PRINT as part of its continuous overall company focus on innovation and improvement, especially in this case, the potentially improved environmental conditions due to the ‘dust free’ nature of this bedding. The trial lasted 15 weeks (from 5 weeks to 20 weeks of age) and the following were evaluated: curability, absorption, ammonia levels, dust levels and overall acceptability/comfort of the birds. Overall, Hybrid Turkeys is pleased with the results of the trial but feels further testing is required at different ages and at different stages of production (e.g. rearing phase and lay/production phase). The company also wishes to find out more about the biosecurity processes for the manufacturing of this type of bedding.
University of Guelph doctoral candidate (pathobiology) Ryan Snyder is currently studying the effect of bedding and other factors on coccidiosis survival at several area farms. He will have results in years to come.
Peter Greydanus who raises broiler breeders for Maple Leaf at Greyda Plains Poultry in Petrolia has used TRACK-PRINT since last October. “It’s controlling the flies and it’s a bit cheaper and less dusty than diatomaceous earth,” he says. “I like it. I think Jillian’s on the right track with it, it’s non-chemical. You have to re-apply after manure builds up and I’m curious to see how it works on darkling beetles.”
Greydanus has used HOOF-PRINT bedding in one pullet cycle so far. “I used it combined with straw and it was a rough cycle for coccidiosis because it was too dry,” he says. “Whether it was the product or my management, you’d have to add moisture I think. There’s a lot less dust with it than straw or shavings. I think it would be the same cost as shavings and fewer bags to handle.”
In October however, Greydanus was very happy with the performance of HOOF-PRINT in a breeder barn cycle. He plans to definitely use it in the breeder barn going forward instead of straw, at least for winter flocks because it dries “very nicely.”
The swell of demand from North America’s largest food companies for cage-free eggs is a stunning example of why public trust in our country’s food system matters.
The huge number of cage-free commitments from food makers, retailers and restaurants in Canada and the U.S. stems from how these companies perceive overall consumer opinions on hen housing – the fact that consumers do not trust that farmers know best with regard to housing systems that provides the best life for hens.
While these North American food companies (see sidebar) are no doubt being influenced by cage-free commitments already made by their subsidiaries or peers in Australia, the UK and the EU, their promises to only source cage-free eggs in these other parts of the world are again based on consumer perception, largely influenced by animal activist groups.
The united cage-free front of North American food makers, restaurants and retailers suggests that cage-free housing is inevitable in both Canada and the U.S. There are simply no major egg buyers who want anything else. “This is a done issue in the U.S.,” says Josh Balk, senior director for food policy at the Humane Society of the United States. “I can’t see the Canadian scenario being any different.”
However, whether egg farmers in either country will be able to meet the deadlines is far from certain.
Eggs Farmers of Canada (EFC) has currently committed to reaching 50 per cent cage-free production within eight years (2024), 85 per cent within 15 years and to have all hens “in enriched housing, free-run, aviary or free-range by 2036, assuming the current market conditions prevail.” This does not line up with North American food industry timelines of sourcing only cage-free eggs by 2025 or sooner. For example, Retail Council of Canada members such as Loblaw and Wal-Mart have committed to 2025, and David Wilkes, Retail Council senior vice-president of government relations and grocery division, says they “will continue to work with producers and processors to transition to this housing environment.”
Burnbrae, sole egg supplier of McDonald’s Canada, is switching all its production for that customer to cage-free to meet the restaurant chain’s 2025 deadline. In the U.S., Rose Acre Farms and Rembrandt Farms, the country’s second and third largest egg producers, are already converting to cage-free barns.
A&W Canada currently stands alone among North American food industry companies in its support of enriched housing. The fast food company says it “has worked very hard to have our eggs come from hens that live in enriched cages,” and that it “will continue to serve eggs from enriched housing while we work towards better cage-free housing.” The chain recognizes that Canadians want their eggs to come from hens housed outside of cages, but adds that “there are currently no viable commercial cage-free housing options that meet our strict standards.” To that end, in March 2016 A&W announced it wants to work with Canadian charity Farm & Food Care to bring egg industry partners, retail and food service from across Canada together with the U.S. Center for Food Integrity’s Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply to discuss all issues impacting sustainable eggs (including food safety, environment, hen health, worker health and safety and food affordability), and determine areas that the Canadian egg sector feels funding would be best spent. A&W has offered a grant of $100,000 to further this research. For it’s part, EFC recognizes research that shows each production system comes with trade-offs. We asked EFC about the fact that for any Canadian egg farm to convert to enriched cages and keep the same production level, new barn(s) will likely have to be constructed because the same number of birds cannot be housed in enriched cages in a given barn as were housed in battery cages. Does EFC see this as a particular challenge for Canadian egg farmers in terms of costs and the land required? “There are many factors a farmer needs to consider when evaluating the realities of transitioning an operation,” EFC states. “What’s important to keep in mind is that every farm is different (e.g. size, location, etc.) and until farmers start working through the implications of their transition—carefully considering his/her requirements—any estimation of cost is speculative.”
While EFC is currently looking into the financial implications of various alternative housing systems, we asked also if cage-free barns are less expensive than enriched cages, taking into account the possible requirement for new barn(s). “The decision to retool an existing barn or build a new barn is an important component of each farm’s individual transition plan,” EFC states. “Shifting to a new production system with different space requirements can impact the overall size of the flock. Typically, alternative housing systems have a larger building footprint and do not contain as many birds and conventional housing systems.”
Cost is a concern for the United Egg Producers, which represents those producing almost 90 per cent of American eggs, and for the National Association of Egg Farmers (NAEF), which represents about one per cent of U.S. production. NAEF is against mandated cage-free production for other reasons as well, including increased egg prices, increased mortality due to cannibalism and other factors, increased pecking injuries, higher risk of contamination due to prolonged exposure of eggs to litter and manure in nest boxes or on the barn floor, high dust levels and ergonomic challenges in egg collection.
Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) released the draft version of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Layers for public comment in June. The draft does not promote any type of housing over any other, but does include new recommendations for roomier cages.
In the end however, any attempt to convince the North American foodservice industry of the merits of any other type of housing except free-run/cage-free may be a lost cause. Marion Gross, senior supply chain management vice president at McDonald’s USA, may have summed it up best in her statement in January 2016 in the Chicago Tribune: “Enriched [housing] doesn’t mean anything to our customers, but they know what cage-free means.”
North Carolina State University (NCSU) is the only remaining venue in North America at which comparative testing of egg laying stocks takes place. At one time in the mid 1960s, there were more than twenty locations in the U.S. and Canada where Random Sample Laying Tests were conducted. Instead of abandoning testing altogether, NCSU chose to superimpose a variety of management systems, cage sizes and configurations on top of the strain comparisons.
In the 39th test, stocks were exposed to the following: conventional cages, enrichable cages, enriched colony housing, cage-free and range.
A total of 20 strains from six different breeding companies were included. Of the 20 strains, 14 have wide commercial distribution in the southeast U.S., while the other six are either experimental or have limited or no distribution. With respect to Canadian distribution, most of the stocks available here are included in the test. Day-old chicks were supplied either by breeders or commercial distributor hatcheries.
Conventional cage results
Two cage densities were used: 69 sq. in. (445 cm2) and 120 sq. in. (774 cm2). The higher density (445 cm2) approximates to commercial practice, although space allowances are progressively increasing.
Summaries of the data were prepared from 119 to 483 days of age. The flocks were then moulted and data was again summarized at 763 days of age. Only the first cycle (to 483 days) data are reviewed here.
Comparing the cage densities showed that in white-egg hens housed at 774 cm2/hen, feed intake was higher by 10 g/bird/day, eggs per hen housed was higher by 7 eggs/hen and mortality lower by 0.86%.
Comparing the strains is complex. Table 1 shows some key data for all 12 white-egg strains tested. Feed intake varied from 96 to 110 g/hen/d. This is, of course reflected in the feed cost data. The strain with the lowest feed intake (Hy-Line CV26) also had comparatively low egg production and egg weight, and thus low value of eggs minus feed. However, the strain with the next lowest feed intake (Shaver White) had much higher egg production, modestly higher egg weight, and very favourable value of eggs minus feed.
With two exceptions, the numbers of eggs per hen housed were quite uniform. Statistical analysis showed that most of the strain differences were not significant. Those with production >317 eggs/hen housed were significantly different from those with production <300. Mortality data are not shown, but mortality was low, averaging 3.9%, and no significant strain differences were observed.
Egg weight was also quite uniform. The average of 60.1 g/egg leads to size categories of approximately 63% extra large, 22% large and 8% medium. For each 1.0 g increase in average egg weight, approximately 5% of the large size move to extra large. In the test situation, extra large eggs were priced approximately three cents per dozen more than large. In most Canadian situations, this premium does not exist. However, when egg weight falls 1.0 g below average, the number of medium size eggs increases two to three per cent, which causes a significant financial penalty.
Turning to the nine brown-egg strains, the first thing to note is the difference in performance between the two cage densities. Brown-egg hens given more space (774 cm2 versus 445 cm2) consumed 11 g more feed/d, and laid 16 more eggs/hen housed. Mortality was 2.5% less in the larger space, although this difference was not statistically significant. The data, when combined, showed an extra $1.00 in egg value minus feed cost for the higher space allowance. For the white-egg strains, the difference was only $0.28.
The brown-egg strains feed consumption varied from 103 to 110 g/hen/d, and hen-housed production from 304 to 314 eggs. Few of these differences were statistically significant. With one exception, the values for egg income minus feed cost were also quite uniform. One is impressed by the relatively small differences between the white and brown-egg strains in these comparisons. Feed intake was actually lower among the brown-egg strains; egg numbers and egg weight were only marginally lower. Traditionally, one would expect higher feed intake and egg size for the brown strains.
Enrichable cages (EC) are 66 cm x 61 cm with 9 birds/cage (447cm2/hen). The cages are belt cleaned. Enriched colony housing (ECS) is the same style of cage but 244 cm wide and includes a nesting area and a scratching area of 1.85 m2 each, plus two perches each 123 cm long. Two bird densities were compared in this system: 36 hens/cage (447 cm2 each) and 18 hens/cage (897 cm2 each).
Cage-free housing consists of a combination of slat floor and litter, with nest boxes and perches. Each pen is 7.4 m2 and holds 60 hens in the adult phase (8.1 birds/m2). Birds in this system were grown in the same pens used for the laying phase.
The range system, used for only three strains, consists of pens 3.7 m x 2.0 m holding 60 hens. They have access to 334 m2 of grass pasture. The pasture is divided in two and rotated every four weeks.
Not all strains were exposed to all of these environments. For example, only two brown-egg strains and one white-egg strain were tested on range. All except two strains experienced the enrichable cages and the enriched colony system. This makes it hard to compare both the strains and the environmental systems, but we can draw a few conditional conclusions.
All birds were moulted during the test, which lasted until 623 days of age.
Comparing environmental systems
Ten white egg strains were exposed to both EC and ECS systems. The most striking difference between these was with respect to laying house mortality. When hens were housed at 69 sq. in./hen, the ECS system showed 23% laying house mortality compared with 16% for the hens in smaller cages, but the same space allowance. While both values are extremely high for contemporary laying flocks, the larger colonies were clearly at a disadvantage. Mortality for the same strains in conventional cages in a different building was 4.3%. Brown-egg strains compared in the same conditions showed overall lower mortality and no differences between ECS and EC. Among the white-egg strains, only Hy-Line W36 had relatively low mortality (6.0% and 7.4% in the EC and ECS systems respectively.)
Comparing the white egg strains in the ECS system at two different densities (447 cm2 versus 897 cm2) showed a definite benefit to the lower density. Mortality was only 9.9% versus 23%. Brown egg strains also benefited from the more generous space allowance, although to a lesser extent: 7.1% mortality versus 10.9%.
Seven white egg strains housed in the cage-free system showed mortality of 14.3%; eight brown egg strains had 15.6%. On free range, the one white egg strain tested had 13.3% mortality, while two brown egg strains averaged 3.75%.
While there were some strain differences in mortality within management systems, the general conclusion must be that large colonies and higher densities are associated with higher mortality. This is not a new discovery but one that is not encouraging for those producers planning on meeting the demand for cage-free or even furnished cage management systems.
Feed intake and egg production were also affected by management system, as shown in Table 4. In general, birds in larger colonies tended to consume more feed. This may be because of perceived increased competition in the larger colonies. Feed consumption was also higher in the cage-free and free range systems. As to egg production data, there were no real trends and the figures for the brown strains kept at 447 cm2 do not appear to be consistent with the other data.
Because of the fact that not all strains were tested in all environments, it is not possible to make realistic comparisons between them. Presented in Table 5 are the highest ranked “Egg value minus feed cost” data for each of the environmental systems.
Most notable among these data are the low values for the free-range flocks. These reflect relatively low egg production and high feed cost. As in conventional cages, the greater space allowance in the enriched cages resulted in higher values for egg income minus feed cost. Whether this would offset the higher cost associated with the extra space is doubtful.
All told, these data from the North Carolina Laying Test are of interest but this is limited by the very high mortality experienced in all but the conventional cage systems. Causes of mortality are not reported. As noted above, higher mortality is frequently associated with large colonies and with non-cage systems. This runs counter to the popular belief among consumers that bird welfare is improved in such systems. Until the systems can be improved, or consumers become more accepting of small colonies or conventional cages (unlikely in this writer’s opinion) industry will be faced with higher costs while producing eggs to meet the demand for cage-free eggs.
For those interested in the complete data from the test, they are available online at https://poultry.ces.ncsu.edu/layer-performance/
April 9, 2016 - Connections and collaboration were a key theme during the Poultry Health Research Network (PHRN) Research Day at the University of Guelph March 29.
The research day brought together representatives from government, industry and academia to provide updates on current research and prompt discussion for future collaborations.
“The whole intent was to ensure that our industry partners and our researchers, either from academia or the government agencies that work with us, have a chance to mingle and talk about their research needs and what we can do to address those research needs,” said Dr. Shayan Sharif, an immunologist in the Ontario Veterinary College’s Department of Pathobiology and leader of the PHRN.
The University of Guelph has had a long-standing commitment to innovation in animal health and production, with one of the largest groups of poultry scientists and poultry experts in North America. The Poultry Health Research Network has been steadily expanding since its inception in 2012 and now includes more than 60 members from across the UofG campus, as well as industry and government researchers.
Lloyd Longfield, Member of Parliament for Guelph, addressed the group during lunch, pointing out how important it is to work together to “share resources and specific expertise to solve global problems.”
Bringing everyone together in the room is where it needs to start, he added. “We’ve got researchers from the government here, we’ve got researchers from university, we’ve got industry and that’s really the chemistry we need to drive forward.”
“Here at the University of Guelph we have an unprecedented and unique gathering of expertise in support of the poultry industry,” said OVC Dean Jeff Wichtel, in addressing the group. “It involves upwards of five of our seven colleges and spans the breadth from poultry welfare right through to vaccine development and molecular basis for immunity to disease.”
During the day, UofG researchers, including MSc, PhD students and post-doctoral researchers, outlined current research in a variety of areas, including poultry welfare, biosecurity, vaccine development, nutrition, and antimicrobial resistance. Afternoon presentations with industry representatives, including pharmaceutical, feed, genetics and equipment companies, and researchers provided a forum to explore areas of mutual interest for future collaborations.
Sharif recognized funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for part of the research day and also acknowledged the Poultry Industry Council, Canadian Poultry Research Council, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation and the Ontario Veterinary College for their ongoing support for PHRN’s work.
March 21, 2016 - Synergy Agri Group of Nova Scotia is the latest winner of the award for the top Cobb500 breeder performance in Canada.
The award was presented to Synergy production manager Gary McAleer by Cobb-Vantress technical service manager for Eastern Canada, David Engel. The group was also presented with the award for the top chick producing Cobb 500FF flock as well as the top egg producing Cobb 500 flock in Canada
Ranked on adjusted production to 65 weeks of age, the company averaged 150.91 chicks / hen housed on all of their flocks. Their flock in Barn 5 won the award for the most chicks with an individual Cobb 500FF flock and shared the award for the most total eggs, averaging 159.37 chicks / hen housed and 189.9 total eggs, adjusted to 65 weeks of age.
”Gary and the team at Synergy once again showed that paying attention to the finer details of flock management will help achieve such excellent results,” said David Engel.
An award was also presented for the top Cobb 500SF flock which Couvoir Boire & Frères in Quebec won for the third year running. The flock at Girard-1 achieved 151.26 chicks / hen adjusted to 65 weeks of age.
Sharing the award with Synergy’s B5 barn for the highest total eggs with a Cobb 500 flock was Barn B-52 at the Pondeuses Atlantique farm in New Brunswick. This flock produced 189.20 total eggs adjusted to 65 weeks.
March 18, 2016 - The Retail Council of Canada (RCC) grocery members, including:Loblaw Companies Limited, Metro Inc., Sobeys Inc., and Wal-Mart Canada Corp., announced that they are voluntarily committing to the objective of purchasing cage-free eggs by the end of 2025.
The grocery members of the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) remain committed to taking a leadership role in animal welfare and have been working collaboratively to ensure the animal products they purchase meet stringent food safety standards and are raised in a sustainable and humane manner.
Guided by this approach, RCC and its members have been actively engaged in domestic and international discussions related to egg production.
"There have been significant discussions over the last several months among producers, processors, the scientific community and consumers regarding the best approach for raising hens," says David Wilkes, RCC Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Grocery Division. "These discussions have led to the announcement our members are making today, further demonstrating our commitment to providing Canadians with responsibly sourced food."
Wilkes commented that: "this voluntary commitment is made recognizing the restrictions created by Canada's supply management system and importantly this objective will have to be managed in the context of availability of supply within the domestic market."
A key part of RCC's approach to animal welfare issues is support for the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC). NFACC is the only group in the world that brings together animal welfare groups, retailers, government and farmers under a collective decision-making model for advancing farm animal welfare.
NFACC is currently finalizing recommendations on a Code of Practice for Layer Hens. This code will provide guidance to industry on a number of areas related to the sound management and welfare practices through recommendations and requirements for housing, care, transportation, processing and other animal husbandry practices.
Wilkes concluded by saying that: "RCC remains firmly committed to the NFACC process and will work with other participants to not only advance our voluntary commitment to move to cage-free environments by the end of 2025, but also by ensuring suppliers adhere to the Code's recommendations."
The Code is expected to be finalized later this year.
Agricultural operations contribute to the atmospheric burden of pollutants, mainly in the form of ammonia (NH3), particulate matter (PM) and greenhouse gases (CH4 and NO2). Poultry operations are major emitters of PM and NH3 whereas other pollutants are emitted to a lesser degree. Much still remains unknown about the variability in the emissions of pollutants.
Additional issues are evident with PM that relate to its composition, toxicity and pathogenicity. PM2.5 are typically secondary particles formed by the reactions of specific gaseous pollutants that create fine airborne salts and liquid aerosols. Secondary inorganic aerosol (SIA) formation chemistry typically involves NH3 as an alkaline precursor gas. As NH3 is produced in poultry houses, SIA particles may be partly responsible for the high PM2.5 levels observed. Thus, if SIA are being formed, it may be feasible to reduce the toxic PM2.5 levels in the house by targeting gaseous NH3 and/or the other reactive gases directly with control methods and thus reduce exposure to both poultry and barn workers.
Dr. Bill Van Heyst and his team from the University of Guelph’s School of Engineering conducted a study to determine some of the impacts poultry production has on our environment.
The study investigated the indoor concentrations and emissions to the atmosphere of a variety of air contaminants from different poultry production systems. Measurements included:
- Air emissions from poultry housing units
- Air emissions from litter storage facilities
- Ammonia emissions from land application of litter
- Assessment of nitrogen loss via emissions from deadstock composting
The overall objective of this project was to provide a sound scientific knowledge base regarding actual agricultural air emissions. Contaminants focused on included: size fractionated particulate matter (PM), NH3, SIA concentrations and emissions as well as that for CH4 and non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and other
Air emissions from poultry housing units:
a) Broiler and Layer facilities
Actual pollutant emissions were determined for broiler chicken (NH3, PM2.5, PM10 and CH4), layer hen (NH3 and PM2.5 and PM10), and turkey grow-out (NH3 and PM2.5 and PM10) housing units
NH3 and PM10 emissions peaked during the winter months, while PM2.5 emissions peaked during the summer months in the layer hen facility
b) Efficacy of a sprinkler system to control NH3 and PM levels
Use of a sprinkler system reduced pollutant emissions more so for PM10 and PM2.5 than NH3 emissions.
c) Effectiveness of Poultry Litter Treatment (PLT) application Poultry litter treatments reduced ammonia emissions
Measurement of air emissions from litter/manure storage facilities:
a) Broiler litter storage facilities emit more CH4 than that from cattle manure but less than liquid swine manure storage facilities.
b) Broiler litter storage facilities emit more N2O than that from cattle manure and liquid swine manure storage facilities.
Measurement of air emissions from land application of manure/litter:
a) NH3 losses from the broadcasted broiler manure were found to be 22 per cent and 25 per cent of the NH4-N applied after 72 and 132 hours respectively.
Measurement of nitrogen loss via ammonia emissions from deadstock composting
a) The NH3 emissions for piles using poultry litter were greater than that of the control (wood chips) and the finished/mature poultry compost, whereas the CH4 emissions were the lowest.
Dr. Van Heyst’s research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Poultry Industry Council and CPRC.
Aviagen Inc. renewed its Research Sponsorship for 2015. CPRC appreciates Aviagen’s continued support of poultry research through the Research Sponsorship Program (www.cp-rc.ca). Aviagen funds have helped support more than $8 million in poultry-related research through both CPRC’s annual funding call and as part of the Poultry Science Cluster since 2012.
Canada’s Inter-Agency Wild Bird Influenza Survey has been testing wild birds for the AI virus since 2005
The 2015 Avian Influenza outbreak was the largest animal health event in U.S. history, affecting 48 million commercial birds at 223 farms in 15 states over six months. North of the border the outbreak affected 245,600 birds across Canada, at 11 farms in BC, three in Ontario.
But it was minus forty degrees when the AI virus first appeared in poultry flocks in the Midwest U.S. How did the wild birds interact with the poultry in that extreme cold? Are the wild birds really to blame?
While the experts still shake their heads about the reasons why the outbreak got out of control or even got started, Jane Parmley, Epidemiologist with the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC), continues to investigate the role of wild birds in the spread of the Avian Influenza (AI) virus.
Parmley has been part of Canada’s Inter-Agency Wild Bird Influenza Survey coordinated by the CWHC since 2005. From 2005 through 2014, over 50,000 wild birds have been tested for the AI virus in Canada. The first screening determines if the birds carry AI of any type. Positive birds are then further tested for H5 or H7 specifically; further positive tests then lead to investigation of the origin and pathogenicity of the AI virus.
Does the detection of low pathogenic AI in wild birds indicate a risk to domestic poultry? “We tend to blame wild birds when we don’t have an easy explanation,” Parmley told delegates at a Poultry Industry Council Health Day in Stratford, Ont., but would early detection of the AI virus in wild birds could provide a sentinel to poultry producers?
It’s a global story: the high pathogenic H5N8 strain was originally identified in South Korea in 2014, showing similarities to a virus detected in 2014 in China, eventually reaching birds in Russia, North America, Europe and Japan. There were three HPAI virus strains seen in North America in 2014/15: H5N8 Eurasian lineage, H5N1 and H5N2. It is believed that the North American viruses came across the Pacific because of their closer similarity to the Asian strain than the European strain, and the timing of arrival made more sense, said Parmley. So far the virus is not considered zoonotic, but that could shift quickly.
Wild birds that are considered as natural reservoirs of low pathogenicity strains include waterfowl (ducks, geese and swans), and shorebirds (such as waders and gulls). There are four flyways across North America – the Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic – connecting wintering and breeding grounds in every part of the continent, from Alaska and Greenland through to Mexico and the Caribbean.
Over 75 per cent of Canadian wild bird species spend at least half of the year outside of Canada; representatives of all of these species are in all the flyways. Because the greatest number and variety of viruses have been seen in waterfowl and shorebirds and their large population, these birds have been the focus of live bird surveillance; most of the live birds sampled have been ducks.
On average, 16 per cent of live birds and one per cent of dead birds have so far tested positive for the low pathogenic North American viruses during the survey period. So far in 2015, 1134 live birds have been tested across Canada, with 93 positive for AI and three for H7 viruses that are not HPAI. In Ontario alone, 624 live birds have yielded 86 positives with no H5 or H7 so far. Also in 2015, 1576 dead birds have been tested across Canada, with 16 positive, four H5 and one H7 (not HPAI); in Ontario alone 266 have been tested with two positive and no H5 or H7. The updated results are available on the CWHC website at http://www.cwhc-rcsf.ca/data_products_aiv.php
But Parmley says that the surveillance effort has varied over the past ten years for several reasons. Survey objectives have changed and available resources have changed; sample sizes are low compared to real populations, and samples are taken haphazardly across the country, often piggybacking on bird banding procedures that may not necessarily be anywhere near poultry farms. We also need to be careful when extrapolating past results over a wide geographic region to the viruses of today.
Moving forward there are still many questions. Will virus based warnings even work? Can wild birds be sentinels? Ultimately we’re trying to develop an early warning system to predict risk and see how the virus is evolving, said Parmley, something she called “incredibly hard to do.” To better protect poultry farms, Parmley says this effort will take more resources – people, time and money.
When is the best time of year to test? How early do we disseminate findings to react in a timely manner? Does wild bird monitoring detect the risk sooner than monitoring the poultry population itself? Can we verify the signals and the risk associated with those signals to avoid an unnecessary response? Is there adequate infrastructure and political will to design and implement a sustainable system?
While wild birds are acknowledged as a reservoir for the AI virus, the relationship between hosts and virus remains diverse and complex. We need to further consider the epidemiological, climatological and agricultural differences across such a vast area, from the Arctic to the Caribbean, as well as at the interface between wild and farmed birds. So far we suspect that the virus can move through migratory birds, but it can also move through trade in poultry and poultry products as well as other human activities.
Nationally, for 2015/16, the goal of testing 1500 dead wild birds has already been exceeded. In Ontario the plan is to test 1500 live wild birds. One live trap site has been set within the control zone of the central Ontario AI outbreak in the spring of 2015.
Despite the challenges, so far Parmley reports a greatly improved understanding of the ecology and epidemiology of AI. We now have a better understanding of the role of waterfowl as a source and vector, the activity of the virus itself within the host, and a better grasp of how the virus is shed.
Beyond 2015, Parmley suggests a thorough process review to identify gaps, identify locations and populations that may be more vulnerable to infection, to help target both resources and surveillance. A national strategy would clarify roles, responsibilities and performance expectations.
“The virus keeps changing and so we need to keep learning,” said Parmley. The question that remains from the 2014/15 outbreaks in North America is how the virus got into poultry? “We can’t look at wild birds and domestic poultry separately – it is the points and places where these populations intersect where we need to focus our attention if we hope to prevent and prepare for the next outbreak.”
"The fact is that if we don’t learn how to recycle nutrients and water, we are doomed. We will start dying off from hunger. This is just one approach to prolong our existence on this planet.”
That ominous warning comes from Nick Savidov, senior research scientist at the Bio-Industrial Opportunities Branch of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (AARD).
By recycling nutrients and water, he means extracting the valuable nutrients from waste streams like poultry manure by using microorganisms in an oxygen-rich environment within a device called a bioreactor to mineralize and dissolve the nutrients in a liquid solution. The nutrients can then be re-used as plant food. Savidov describes this as a sustainable approach to agriculture that could help save humanity from starvation down the road.
Tapping into this source of organic fertilizer from aerobic bioreaction is critical to continued human life on Earth, says Savidov, because current synthetic fertilizer sources are non-renewable. For example, he says that according to the most recent survey by the International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC), 85 per cent of all phosphorus rock reserves on the planet, which are used to produce phosphorus fertilizers are located in just one area - in Morocco and the Western Sahara. Also, current nitrogen synthetic fertilizers can only be produced using non-renewable fossil fuels. Sources of synthetic fertilizers now in widespread use are a finite resource that will eventually run out. Nutrient and water recycling to capture these same nutrients from animal waste streams offers hope to feeding humanity in future.
He is working with an AARD research team, which includes engineer and system designer, Marc Legault, to demonstrate the use of an aerobic bioreactor to mineralize nutrients from raw poultry manure. They used the dissolved organic fertilizer, called “digestate” to grow market garden vegetables and tree seedlings in a soil-less growing environment. So far, the results have been highly successful.
For example, seedlings of lodgepole pine and white spruce fed with this mineralized organic nutrient stream, “doubled in height after two months. The results exceeded all our expectations,” says Savidov.
The organic fertilizer was also used to grow greenhouse tomatoes, and a 15 per cent higher yield was achieved versus use of synthetic fertilizer because of enhanced nutrient uptake by the plants.
“We demonstrated that we can produce vigorous growth of major nursery crops grown in Alberta and B.C., using poultry manure digestate,” says Savidov.
It is common practice right now to grow market garden vegetables and tree seedlings in greenhouses that use no soil, where the plant roots are immersed in liquid environments and fed computer-controlled, metered amounts of synthetic fertilizers to promote growth. But these Alberta researchers want growers to consider using mineralized organic fertilizers extracted from animal waste instead of synthetic fertilizers because it is a more sustainable form
What’s different and proving more beneficial by using recycled organic fertilizers instead of synthetics is that they are biologically active with beneficial microorganisms. In addition to exceptional growth over a short period of time, the tree seedlings also experienced enhanced root biomass development, robust health such as better resistance to root pathogens, and improved nutrient uptake, meaning that they experienced exceptional growth in low nutrient solutions. In other words, growers can use small amounts to achieve big results, which could be a huge economic benefit. Furthermore, the water used in these soil-less growing systems is recycled so that there is less pollution released to the environment, and the grower achieves greater water use and nutrient uptake efficiencies.
Researchers chose to work with poultry manure as their raw material because it was readily available, rich in nitrogen, and less fibrous than cattle manure, which because of its fibre content, takes longer to ferment. The processed poultry manure resulted in organic fertilizer with low sodium content, which can be toxic to plants in higher concentrations, and pH within the tolerable range for plants.
Savidov emphasizes that whether it is synthetic fertilizers or this type of organic fertilizer, the nutrients have to be mineralized so they can be used as plant food. He adds that what’s new about this process versus the common practice of creating organic fertilizer by composting manure is that this aerobic bioreaction conversion process is much faster -- taking two to three weeks versus three months to a year with composting. Also, this method results in 100 per cent conversion of the raw manure to valuable, liquid plant food versus composting or the other commonly known method of converting animal manure to organic fertilizer — anaerobic digestion. This is the process of converting manure to organic fertilizer and biogas in an oxygen-free environment.
The researchers’ goals were to prove that it is possible to create a liquid, biologically-active, organic fertilizer from raw animal manure using their aerobic fermentation method and that plant response from this organic fertilizer in a soil-less growing environment is as good as or better than the use of synthetic fertilizers.
Savidov says it is possible to extract valuable nutrients using their bioreactor system from all forms of animal manure or other food and agriculture by-products but they started with poultry manure. Ultimately, converting manure to a liquid nutrient stream using their bioreactor technology could represent a new income stream for farmers like poultry producers, as well as a non-synthetic, biologically active, fertilizer source for growers. The conversion process also produces heat, which can be used to heat poultry barns.
An aerobic bioreactor is not expensive, space-age technology. It is easily achievable, relatively inexpensive technology. The bioreactor is simply a septic tank with a built-in agitator. Oxygen and water is added to the tank along with the manure to create a slurry. Intense mixing within the tank is critical to maintain consistent fermentation. Savidov says there is no odor during the reaction process, except when the raw manure is added because oxygen reacts with common odor-causing compounds like hydrogen sulfide. Because all components within the raw manure will completely mineralize over different time intervals, there will be some solid material left in the liquid outfeed stream after three weeks. After about three weeks, the bioreactor is stopped and the processed liquid is removed to a filtration tank. The solids are separated from the liquid and returned to the bioreactor for further fermentation, while the liquid stream is ready for use as organic fertilizer.
“To be honest, it’s not really an absolutely new system,” says Savidov. “It’s using bits and pieces of what is already used in the agriculture industry for manure treatment.” He adds that greenhouses and nurseries would have to change very little to convert from synthetic fertilizer use to this type of organic fertilizer.
The researchers hope that aerobic fermentation of animal manure into organic fertilizer will become a common practice, either on farms, by commercial organic fertilizer producers, or directly at greenhouses or tree nurseries. It is currently used in some parts of Europe to treat cattle manure.
Poultry producers have become interested in being involved in on-farm trials to test research discoveries in a commercial production setting. Although conducting research trials in specialized facilities that mimic commercial circumstances is common, they may not provide the variety of conditions that would be found on commercial farms.
Research is designed to further the poultry industry and ensure its long-term viability, and trials on commercial operations are important to meet those objectives. However, on-farm research trials require compromises on the part of the poultry producer. Risks that may have a negative impact on production or product quality are part of all research. Producers have to be aware of potential production and other risks that might result from a research trial on their farm and discuss how those risks will be managed with the researcher.
Poultry producers commit to an on-farm trial for the length of the research project. Generally, research is conducted by changing one or several normal production activities (such as feed formulation, reduction in antibiotics, etc.) and then measuring how the changes impact the research flock. The research flock is then compared to other flocks that are produced under the farm’s normal method of production (control flocks). Changes in flock management or other production activities (feed formulation, lighting, etc.) cannot be made to either the research or control flocks during the research period without consultation with the researcher. Small production or management changes need to be accounted for in the measurement of research impacts, and significant changes can completely derail the project, leading to wasted money and effort.
Poultry producers who want to take part in on-farm trials can take the following steps to ensure that their experience is positive:
- Talk to other farmers that have been involved in on-farm research trials. What was their experience? How did they prepare? How was the communication with the researcher? What should they have done differently?
- Remember that researchers are not commercial poultry farmers. While they may be very knowledgeable about poultry, few will have a good understanding of how a commercial poultry farm operates.
- Ensure that the research is at an appropriate stage for on-farm trials. Talk to the researcher and industry specialists (provincial poultry specialists, producer organization staff) to make sure that an on-farm trial is the next step in the research process. This strategy will reduce the risk of failure or unexpected production problems.
- Ensure that communication is “two-way” so that the researcher understands how the project requirements may impact the poultry farm operations and management. Compromises may have to be made by both the farmer and researcher to meet both production and research requirements. Research is a specialized and very structured activity and a producer must have a clear understanding of researcher expectations so potential issues are identified.
- Make sure that research requirements are clearly understood by management and that staff are aware of their responsibilities to the project.
- Develop a clear risk-management plan to ensure that problems are identified early, the research team is quickly made aware of a developing problem and the farm business is not unduly damaged if problems occur. The risk-management plan should include details of compensation if the research trials cause negative financial impacts on the farm business.
On-farm research trials are important to proving the value of research discoveries before they are adopted by industry as a whole. Properly designed and managed trials will help industry adopt discoveries quickly and efficiently.
CPRC has begun a consultation process designed to develop recommended guidelines for planning and performing on-farm trials. This effort will involve input from a wide range of stakeholders, including producers, producer organizations, researchers, regulators, statisticians and others. This approach will ensure that potential issues are identified and addressed in the guidelines.
The membership of the CPRC consists of the Chicken Farmers of Canada, Canadian Hatching Egg Producers, Turkey Farmers of Canada, Egg Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors’ Council. CPRC’s mission is to address its members’ needs through dynamic leadership in the creation and implementation of programs for poultry research in Canada, which may also include societal concerns.
The public wants to know that birds are being well kept and the poultry industry wants the same, but what does the bird want?
That’s what Dr. Alexandra Harlander wants to know. She is leading a series of poultry behavioural studies at the University of Guelph’s Arkell Poultry Research Center where the birds are having their say.
Poultry producers are under public pressure to provide the best possible environment for chickens, and single- or multi-tier aviary systems may provide commercial options. In these systems, birds can walk and flap and fly – performing species-specific behaviour – but they also seem to have increased risk of bone fractures, particularly keel bone fractures, with 80 percent of birds sustaining injuries while navigating the cages.
Until now, there has been no science behind the locomotor skills of the birds on the ground or in the air, nor has there been any study of the laying hens’ preference for flying or walking. Are pullets and hens of different strains better able to adapt to different heights, angles and arrangements of perches and tiers? Are some genetic lines better able to adapt to alternative housing systems?
Harlander and her research students are investigating the set up of aviary systems, including perches, nest boxes, feeders, drinkers and litter, and the behaviour of birds in them with the intention of providing recommendations for these aviary systems in commercial settings.
One of three current projects involves testing the optimum ramp incline that hens can master across ages and strains. A steeper ramp means less room used but are the hens more likely to fly up and risk injury? Chantal LeBlanc, a Master’s student at the University of Guelph, is testing ramp inclines of 20, 50 and 70 degrees leading to two different platform heights similar to those found in commercial aviaries. “Nobody has tested that before,” said LeBlanc. She is also comparing two different surface materials on the ramp – sandpaper versus more commonly used wire mesh.
Starting at just one week old the birds have been tested weekly through 8 weeks of age, bi-weekly from 8 weeks to 20 weeks old, then will be tested further at 25 and 30 weeks of age. LeBlanc places birds from the same home pen — the hen’s friends — in a ‘social attraction’ cage at the top of the ramp, as well as offering food rewards (the birds love raisins) to entice them up the ramp. The hen is first placed on the platform so she sees the reward, then she is released at the bottom of the ramp and allowed to climb. LeBlanc is measuring their behaviour – how do they go up the ramps? Will she fly? Will she walk? At what point do they change from walking up to flying up?
At the bottom of the ramp is a force plate that measures how much they anticipate the climb by the ground-reaction force exerted on the plate – the hypothesis is that the greater the ramp incline, the greater the ground reaction force: it’s more effort.
In another research study, Master’s student Stephanie LeBlanc is looking at how typical production diseases affect the balancing ability of laying hens. Does physical impairment have any impact on the incidence of falls and subsequent keel bone fractures in aviary systems?
LeBlanc tested birds on a motorized moving perch system that sways back and forth. The birds were 69 weeks old and had some typical damage such as footpad dermatitis, poor wing feather coverage or keel bone fractures. This study is looking at how that damage affected their balancing ability on the moving perch. The research is very realistic, using birds that industry actually deals with every day.
The birds were also subjected to different treatments – rubber chickens, for example, were placed on each side of a bird to allow 15 cm of perch: how does this affect her ability to balance? There can be other birds next to a bird on the perch when she’s trying to take off or land – how does this impact the bird’s balance? “She isn’t able to flap,” said LeBlanc, which could increase the probability of injury. She also put a cotton mask on some birds to mimic low lighting conditions to see how that impacted the birds, adding to much-needed baseline research data for aviary systems.
In another section of the poultry research centre in Arkell, Master’s candidate Madison Kozak is using time loggers to compare the day-to-day behaviour of four different common industry breeds – two Lohman, brown & white, Dekalb white and Hyline white hens in aviaries. “No one has ever made a time budget for a chicken,” said Kozak. How much time do they spend on the ground? How much time do they spend on a platform or perch?
Her research is also going back to the basics to look at the locomotor patterns of the chickens, trying to see how they navigate the aviary systems, trying to distinguish between what we think they want and what they choose. “It’s very basic but necessary,” said Kozak.
Aviaries are becoming increasingly popular, said Kozak, as an option that allows birds to fly, move, run and jump. Aviary systems are supposed to improve hen welfare but a lot of birds are having a hard time navigating them. She has designed an experimental aviary system with a ramp and a ladder, two platforms and a higher perch with two different thicknesses with a spring on it so when they step on it, it’s more like a branch. The wooden features in the pens mimic those made of steel in commercial aviaries. In the industry there will be a higher stocking density.
“We’re getting a time budget,” explained Kozak, who will be measuring the time spent on each behaviour for two hours per day using non-intrusive data loggers attached to the hen’s back. Some birds are fitted with a real data logger; some just have dummy data loggers of the same weight to see if having the apparatus attached to their backs affects their behaviour. The data loggers measure the height of where the bird is in the aviary and an accelerometer is used to measure the speed of the bird and the distance they’ve gone in any direction. Kozak will calibrate this data with videos to evaluate the accuracy of the data logger information for use in further research. “There’s a ton of data that will be easier to analyze with the data logger than with videos,” said Kozak.
How much time to they spend in the ground or in the air? Do they actually use all of the areas of the cage? Maybe they only need one platform? Do they prefer the ramp or the ladder or do they care? Do they prefer to walk or fly, up and down?
She is already seeing that the ladders used by the white birds have a lot of feces on them, which indicates a lot of use compared to the brown birds. Maybe certain breeds are better suited for aviaries?
Kozak also placed brooder boxes in the aviaries for the first eight weeks to simulate the darkness the young birds would experience when hiding in the feathers of a hen. Is it possible these birds will be better adjusted hens later, expressing less feather pecking than those reared without the darkness? Brooder boxes are easy and cheap to construct.
All three studies will combine to help define the right aviary design, one that prevents injuries, and provide suggestions for how birds could be raised for the aviary systems. “We can’t think like a bird,” said Kozak, but we will soon know more about what a bird thinks. Results are expected starting this fall.
Leading this research is Dr. Alexandra Harlander, an assistant professor in Animal Science at the University of Guelph, who has recently been gifted $500,000 by Burnbrae Farms, Canada’s largest egg producer, to establish a professorship in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science. Harlander received her veterinary degree in Vienna, continuing her poultry research at the University of Hohanheim in Germany and the University of Bern in Switzerland before choosing to come to Canada, lured by the positive research atmosphere here. She currently advises five research projects involving the welfare and behaviour of poultry. “I’m very grateful to all my students,” said Harlander. “It’s hard to convince students that chickens are exciting…they are great and they are funny. You can train chickens – they’re very clever. I’d like to raise the excitement level just a bit.”
An attractive nest site is one of the reasons for using furnished cages for laying hens, but what does the hen consider attractive?
To help answer that question, Michelle Hunniford, a PhD student at the University of Guelph, is investigating how hens perform nesting behaviour in furnished cages at the Arkell Research Station in
Two of her most recent studies have compared some of the variables, such as group size and space allowance, as well as a hen’s previous rearing experience, to see what affects nesting behaviour in furnished cages.
In her first experiment, Hunniford used Lohmann LSL-lite hens to examine the impact of cage size and space allowance. The hens were divided into 12 large commercial and 12 small custom-built Farmer Automatic furnished cages, each fitted with a nest area (large nest: 5,664 cm2; small nest: 2,816 cm2) with red plastic curtains and a yellow plastic mesh floor, and a 42 cm2 smooth red plastic scratch mat at the opposite end of each cage.
Working under the supervision of Dr. Tina Widowski, the Egg Farmers of Canada Research Chair in Poultry Welfare, Hunniford also looked at the behaviour of birds kept at different space allowances in large and small cages, comparing low (520 cm2/bird) versus high (720 cm2/bird) space allowance in both small and large cages.
How would competition for nesting space or floor space be reflected in where they laid their eggs?
The location of lay, whether in the nest area, scratching area, or somewhere in between, was recorded between 21 to 70 weeks of age, and the time of lay was monitored for eight days at 54 weeks of age. The hens’ disposition was measured by recording the number of occurrences of displacements, aggressive pecks, threats and fights.
The results indicated that hens did respond differently to different-sized cages.
In the small cages, 91.7 per cent of hens used the nesting area compared to 77.2 per cent in the large cages. Most of the remaining eggs were laid in the scratch area. Hens in the smaller cages with low floor space allowance were more aggressive than the other groups, which Hunniford suggests may be because hens in smaller cages were more competitive for nesting space. Also, the birds in larger cages may have perceived the scratch area as an attractive alternative nest area because it was fitted with a wire partition which added more corners into the cage.
Hunniford did conclude that increasing the absolute size of a curtained nest area in a larger cage might not provide the most attractive nest site for hens.
Greater than 30 per cent of the hens in large cages laid their eggs between 8 and 9 a.m., while those in the small cages laid between 7 and 10 a.m. This difference may indicate a lack of available nest space in the small cages, causing hens to delay laying their eggs. More pecks and threats were recorded between 8 and 8:30 a.m., which coincided with peak laying time.
The number of eggs laid in a nest is often used as an indicator of how well the hen accepts the nest, but is this truly the case? Since the hens in the smaller cages were more aggressive yet laid more eggs in the nests, the results also raise questions about using the number of eggs laid in a nest as an indicator of hen welfare.
Hens that show more settled pre-laying behaviour — less walking, more time sitting at the laying site, and showing less aggression — may give a better indication of animal welfare than where they lay their eggs.
“It is not enough to record egg location and make the conclusion that high nest use correlates with good welfare. The same behaviours associated with poor welfare (i.e. aggression) were also in the cages with the highest nest use. This suggests that behaviour is a very important component that must be taken into account when assessing welfare.”
In her second experiment, Hunniford compared hens reared in standard brooding cages with those reared in a pullet-rearing aviary (Farmer Automatic Pullet Portal) to investigate the effect of rearing environment on egg-laying preferences.
Hens that were reared in standard cages preferred laying in the nest versus the scratching area (89.6 per cent versus 81.3 per cent) but showed more of what Hunniford called “unsettled pre-laying activity” — walking, searching and nest area entries — prior to week 20 of lay when compared to the aviary-raised birds. This behavioural difference had diminished by peak lay at week 32.
Hunniford concluded that rearing experience influenced the nesting behaviour of laying hens and their ability to settle more quickly into a new environment. “This result was somewhat unexpected,” says Hunniford. “It shows that we still have a lot to learn about how rearing environment impacts the behaviour and spatial awareness of adult laying hens.”
In the next phase of her research, Hunniford will investigate which nest site design is preferred by hens by testing different enclosure and surface material conditions. The overall objective of this research project is to help determine optimal design parameters to support nesting behaviour in furnished cages. Her work is supported by grants from Egg Farmers of Canada and the Ontario Ministry for Agriculture and Food.
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PIC’s fundraiser golf tournamentWed Sep 06, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
The West Niagara Fair and Poultry ShowThu Sep 07, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Canada’s Outdoor Farm ShowTue Sep 12, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Farm & Food Care Ontario's Breakfast on the FarmSat Sep 16, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, Public Agriculture SummitMon Sep 18, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
100th International Plowing Match and Rural ExpoTue Sep 19, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM