The German food industry has come together to form a partnership that addresses animal husbandry issues. Together, farmers, retailers and the meat industry are working to ensure stricter animal welfare standards are enforced – and that farmers are compensated for going the extra mile.
Dec. 5, 2016 - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is seeking public comment on proposed amendments to the Health of Animals Regulations Part XII which deals with humane transportation.

This is an opportunity for Canadians to share their views on the transportation of animals.

The draft amendments appeared in the Canada Gazette, Part I on December 3, 2016 and the public comment period will run until February 15, 2017.

Quick Facts
  • The CFIA establishes and enforces regulations for the welfare of animals during transport, as specified in the requirements of the Health of Animal Regulations, which governs the humane transportation of animals in Canada.
  • The current regulations were developed in 1977 and few amendments have been made since then.
  • The proposed regulations are the product of ten years of consultation with industry, the public and special interest groups.
  • Protecting animal welfare in Canada is a shared responsibility between governments (federal, provincial and territorial), industry (e.g. producers, transporters, processors, registered slaughter establishments) and the public.
Health of Animals Regulations: Part XII: Transportation of Animals-Regulatory Amendment - Interpretive Guidance for Regulated Parties


Chickens, like all vertebrates, are governed by a circadian rhythm that is governed by the natural light/dark cycle of day and night. As such, chickens mostly rest and are inactive at night, especially when it is dark.  Although they do rest during the daylight hours, most of their feeding and activity is performed during this time.   

Studies show that just as in humans, major abrupt changes to the day/night cycle of the chickens, such as waking up the chickens at night with loud noises, will lead to stressed and anxious chickens.

In addition, studies have shown that loud noises such as found near airports, rail road tracks or loud hydraulic or pneumatic equipment and machinery close to the chickens leads to lower egg production, stunted growth, higher blood pressure, stress and fatigue in the birds.  A study has shown that loud noise simulating noisy ventilation fans and operational machines found at slaughterhouses led to increased plasma corticosteroids, cholesterol and total protein.1 This study recommended the control of noise pollution near the chickens and chicks.

Other studies show that noise levels past the 85 dB level can lead to a decreased feed intake of between 15 to 25 per cent.  Lower feed intake stunts chicken growth — something the poultry farmer or processor does not want.

But all is not lost. Below are some tips and advice to reduce the noise level to an acceptable and healthier level leading to happier and healthier chickens – both psychologically and physically.

First identify the sources of noise pollution equipment. Use a sound measuring tool if necessary.

  1. Erect sound barrier secondary glazing in windows.
  2. Establish your chicken farm in a quiet area away from airports and industrial areas and rail yards.
  3. Maintain your ventilation fans and feeding machines making sure they are not producing excess noise.
  4. Try to buy machines that produce the least noise possible.
  5. Avoid repairs and renovations with noisy equipment, especially during the rest and sleep hours of the chickens
  6. Muffle noisy equipment.
  7. Make sure that family members do not honk the car horn too often during chicken sleep hours.
  8. Investigate “active noise control” - a noise cancelation anti-noise system that produces sound waves of the same amplitude as the noise pollution, but in opposite polarity causing a cancelling of the noise pollution.
  9. Train employees and family members to respect the sleep hours of the chickens - they should not be screaming out to each other, joking etc. around sleeping chickens.

We simply see that it’s about common sense and respect. We need to respect the fact that chickens are living beings that need many of the same things that we need, including a good night’s sleep and some peace and quiet during the day. We just have to sensitize ourselves by imaging how we feel when we are woken up while we are asleep. We feel grouchy the next day and are less productive in the office. If we internalize this reality, we will treat the chickens with more respect, which not only is the proper thing to do, but it is actual good business sense.

The results will be healthier, bigger chickens.  Thus, everybody gains by respecting the chickens needs not to be exposed to high levels of noise pollution: the commercial poultry farmer, the backyard chicken farmer enthusiast, the processor and the chickens.

Ronnie P. Cons is EVP of C&C Packing Inc., a leading Canadian distributor of meat and poultry. He can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  Visit at www.CCpacking.com


1Stress in Broiler Chickens Due to Acute Noise Exposure (2009) Chloupek et. Al  Acta Veterinaria Brno, 78:93-98.



I was attracted to a review article on this topic in the September 2015 issue of the World’s Poultry Science Journal (Harlander-Matauschek et al, vol.71, pp 461-472).  It is the outcome of an International Keel Bone Workshop held in Switzerland in 2014. For local interest, I also reviewed the paper of Petrik et al in Poultry Science, vol.94, pp579-585.

Unusually for a review paper, this one is primarily targeted at what is not known, and mainly consists of 9 recommendations for further study.

Most scientists in the field, and also experienced managers of layers, intuitively know that the keels of laying hens are susceptible to damage during the laying cycle.  This was first brought to light several years ago when scientists in England examined carcases of spent hens following slaughter, and found a high incidence of keel damage and breakage.  The degree to which this causes pain or distress during the life of the birds is not known.

In live birds, damage to the keel can only be determined by palpation, and there is no recognized standard method, or protocol for evaluating or reporting the results.  There is also the distinction between actual fracture of the keel, and various levels of distortion or deformity.  Fractures usually result in a callus around the fracture site that can be detected on handling the bird.  So the first recommendation in the review paper is to develop a uniform method of evaluating keel bone damage so that future results will be comparable.  Petrik et al studied only keel fractures.

The second recommendation was to investigate the kind of event or bird activity that results in keel damage.  In non-cage systems, collisions with other birds and with furniture and equipment are thought to be some of the factors.  However, even in conventional cages, keel damage occurs, but the reasons are not known.

Another unknown is whether initial deviation or distortion of the keel, from whatever cause, may result in keel fracture.

Do birds reared in different environments have different potential for keel bone damage in adult life?  This is yet another unanswered question.  Growing birds in an environment where wing flapping is encouraged is thought to improve locomotor skills and thus may avoid some of the (also largely unknown) challenges that result in keel damage.

In non-cage laying systems, individual birds as well as groups may display escape reactions to events that result in panic or fright. This can result in keel bone damage.  These events may result from management activities and are thus susceptible to variation and potential improvement, but they must first be identified and studied.

As with any, even imprecisely measured, characteristic, there is always the question of a genetic influence.  Interestingly, these 21st century scientists managed to find a study reported in 1955 showing that the tendency to develop keel deformity could be altered by genetic selection. Whether the methods used in this selection experiment would be relevant to contemporary keel damage observations would need to be confirmed.

If genetics is involved, can nutrition also play a part in affecting keel bone damage?  The answer to this question is, of course, related to how nutrition influences bone development and maintenance.  And this in turn may be related to the interactions involved in egg shell deposition and bone integrity.  The likelihood of direct involvement of calcium balance as it affects shell deposition and keel bone integrity is probably low.  This is because the calcium flow from bones to the egg shell gland is from the long bones and not the keel.

There are large differences in keel fracture incidence between housing systems and even within similar systems.  Perches, although considered desirable from a welfare standpoint, seem to result in elevated keel damage and fracture.  But different materials used for perches result in widely variable keel damage.  Round metal perches seem to be inferior to other designs.  Petrik et al’s work in Ontario compared keel fractures in conventional cages with single tiered floor housing and found almost double the incidence in the floor systems.

The final recommendation from the Harlander-Matauschek paper in to investigate and quantify keel bone damage and production losses.  A new report (as yet unpublished) shows that birds with keel fractures laid eggs with reduced shell breaking strength.  This would represent a serious challenge if confirmed.  The fact that most of the keel fractures appear to occur during the period of peak egg production would suggest that the nutrient status of the affected birds is inadequate to support both maximum egg production and bone maintenance.  The inadequacy must be minimal though, since many flocks continue to lay at or near peak level for many months and if keel damage is compromising productivity, its effect must be very small.

In reading this research, one can sense the authors’ frustration at the lack of clear information. Obviously, much more research is needed before industry would be able to take firm action to deal with this problem.



Research from the University of Saskatchewan shows that the impact of beak trimming poultry at a young age, if done properly, is minor. This is compared to the greater impact on flock welfare of not trimming.

Researchers globally have studied the impact of beak trimming and beak trimming methods, as this practice has been criticized for its impact on bird welfare.

“Research in our lab and labs of others have found that when beak treatment is performed appropriately, with proper techniques and at young ages, the negative impact of the treatment itself is relatively minor in comparison to the larger animal welfare concern of feather pecking and cannibalism,” writes Dr. Karen Schwean-Lardner in a report about the project.  

In terms of beak treatment she explains that infrared beak treatment (IRBT) birds are less impacted from a welfare perspective than birds treated with hot blade trimming. She adds that there is some suggestion that using IRBT does not seem to affect all strains of birds in the same way, particularly white versus brown feathered strains

A research team led by Schwean-Lardner and Dr. Henry Classen has recently completed a three year project which addresses questions regarding the need to adjust IRBT settings for specific bird breeds.  

The team worked with  two white and two brown feathered commercial strains of laying hens. Their work  looked specifically at beak morphology differences between the strains, and aimed to determine the impact of variation in IRBT settings on beak characteristics, healing and re-growth, production and welfare.  

“It is imperative to establish guidelines for infrared treatment use that result in the benefits producers expect, while maintaining the welfare qualities of this procedure.”

In their report, Classen and Schwean-Lardner describe the main findings of the research team:

“IRBT settings should be adjusted for specific conditions, including strain, but it also suggests that some variation in treatment settings does not have important welfare or production effects.”  

They went onto explain: “The effects of IRBT are short-lived and minor, and likely a reaction to the treatment and beak sloughing. The nature of beak sloughing due to treatment was quite different and the effect was strain specific. However, despite these differences, growth and production later in life were unaffected.”

“This research will hopefully produce consensus on the value of the technique, and will also refine the technique to permit ever increasing success in beak growth in an animal welfare appropriate way.”

This research was funded by the Poultry Industry Council.  The research team would like to thank  Clark’s Hy-line Inc., Brandon Man. for allowing them to work in their facility.

August 31, 2015 – A sold-out crowd of 250 gathered at War Memorial Hall at the University of Guelph on August 27 to hear world-renowned animal behaviourist Dr. Temple Grandin give a keynote presentation.

Dr. Grandin addressed the audience for an hour, talking on the subject of how different minds solve problems. She then met with attendees at a reception following her presentation.

Dr. Grandin is an inspiration to people with autism for her work as an animal behaviorist. Dr. Grandin has developed humane livestock handling systems, and has worked as a consultant to the livestock handling industry on animal care standards. She has, in addition, designed processing facilities in which half the cattle in the United States are handled while working for Burger King, McDonalds, Swift and others.

Dr. Grandin was in Ontario assisting with the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization training (PAACO). The organization’s mission is to promote the humane treatment of animals through education and certification of animal auditors.

Dr. Grandin was named by Time Magazine as one of 2010’s “100 most influential People in the World”. HBO also produced the award-winning biographical film on her life entitled Temple Grandin. She currently speaks around the world on both autism and animal behaviour.

The event was organized as a fundraiser for Farm & Food Care Canada. The charitable organization, based out of Guelph, cultivates appreciation for food and farming by connecting Canadian farm gates to our dinner plates. Farm & Food Care is a coalition of farmers and associated businesses proactively working together with a commitment to provide credible information and strengthen sustainable food and farming for the future.

For more information on the initiatives of Farm & Food Care Canada, please visit www.farmcarefoundation.ca.

May 22, 2015 - A national training and certification program for those who handle and transport farm animals will be made available online thanks to $180,000 in government funds. The money comes from Growing Forward 2, a five-year provincial and federal initiative that supports a variety of projects in the agriculture and agri-food industries. 

The Canadian Livestock Transport (CLT) Certification program was developed in Alberta in 2007 and has enjoyed national and U.S. participation since the program was moved to the Canadian Animal Health Coalition in 2013. This has included growing international recognition of CLT as an innovative, pioneering program and a leading example of industry-driven leadership in livestock welfare. The overall goal is to help ensure that farm animals in
Canada are transported in a safe and humane manner.

The Canadian Animal Health Coalition is very pleased to receive this funding, said Coalition Chair, Jennifer MacTavish. "It will allow us to advance the highest animal welfare standards in the transport of farm animals," she said. The funding will be used to develop interactive multimedia online materials and delivery of the existing CLT program that is offered to transport drivers and handlers of livestock and poultry. 

The program is uniquely Canadian, reflecting Canada's standards and regulations and is available for those who transport or receive cattle, hogs, horses, sheep and poultry. Although voluntary, a growing number of companies that process meat now require drivers and handlers to have this certification, said Mark Beaven, executive director of the non-profit coalition. 

It is estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 people are involved in the transportation of animals in Canada. Currently, about 1,500 transport drivers and handlers who load and unload livestock and poultry are certified. Re-training is required every three years to maintain certification and the online program will not only make the recertification process more efficient and consistent but will allow more people across the country to participate, said Beavan. 

The training involves everything from knowing the regulations and proper techniques for the safe handling of animals, to loading capacities and avoiding overcrowding as well as biosecurity and other protocols that are necessary to protect agricultural industries. Program details can be found at www.livestocktransport.ca. 

"This funding allows us to take the program into the 21st century," he said. "It will be very interactive and intense, but it allows the current participants to be recertified and new ones to come on board and do it at their own pace." 
It will build Canada's reputation as "a world leader" in the safe and humane handling of farm animals, he added. 




As consumers, retailers and the broader community continue to demand movement towards housing systems that place high value on offering improved behavioural opportunities for hens, it’s important to track measures related to their physical condition. Do the proposed solutions carry unintended consequences? What are the physiological and physical effects of more open housing systems?

As a benchmarking tool, researchers Mike Petrik, Michele Guerin and Tina Widowski have just published a study that gives a snapshot of commercial Ontario brown laying hens in cage and non-cage systems using three welfare indicators: keel bone fracture prevalence, feather scores and cumulative mortality. These three parameters are typically used to reflect some of the physical aspects of the welfare status of the hens.  

Benchmarking welfare indicators from alternative housing systems is important to ensure that progress is made in improving their well-being. This is the first study in North America to compare housing systems on multiple farms as well as providing a more detailed assessment of keel fractures during the life of a flock.

There are 64 farms in Ontario housing brown hens in cages with an average flock size of 9,965, while 27 farms average 9,410 hens per flock in floor-housed systems. For their study, Petrik et al. recruited nine commercial farms that housed brown hens in cages and eight farms using floor systems. Only brown hens were included because there are no white hen flocks housed using floor systems in Ontario at present.

All hens were beak trimmed; caged pullets were grown in caged housing and floor flocks were grown in single-tier floor pullet houses.  All birds were fed a commercial diet that was adjusted to individual flock requirements.

Hens were sampled four times over the course of lay, at 20, 35, 50 and 65 weeks of age. At each visit, 50 hens were weighed and palpated for evidence of healed keel bone fractures. Feather scores were assigned based on evaluation of the neck, back, breast and vent. The daily records maintained by the farmer provided mortality data.

Keel fracture prevalence was significantly higher for the floor housing compared to conventional housing.  As birds neared the end of lay at 65 weeks, the fracture rate was 54.7% compared to 40% for caged flocks. These floor-flock figures were comparable to those for floor birds in Europe (45 to 86%) but the conventional numbers were greater than those reported in conventional cages in the UK (26 to 30%). This might be due to the difference in cage size (483 cm2 in North America vs. 550 cm2 in Europe) that may result in more piling behaviour, or possibly cage design or nutritional factors.

Keel fractures are often attributed to traumatic injury. Five of the eight floor barns in this study had no perches; the researchers suggested that fixed perches were not a contributing factor to the incidence of keel bone fractures in these flocks.  

While most studies evaluate keel fractures at the end of lay, this study points to fractures occurring much earlier in production. In this study, the fracture prevalence increased substantially from 20 to 50 weeks in both floor and cage systems, after which the incidence stabilized. This is a serious concern because fractures occuring early in lay results in a higher potential for chronic pain over the course of production.

Flock-level mean feather score was not significantly affected by the housing system, possibly due to the hens having been beak trimmed. Cumulative mortality tended to be lower (1.29%) for cage housing than floor housing (2.13%), but the figure for floor housing was much lower than in other studies, which have indicated that non-cage systems put hens at a much higher risk for feather pecking, cannibalism and mortality for various reasons. These feather condition and mortality results showed that these Ontario flocks performed really well.

Mean body weight was lower but more uniform in floor housed flocks compared to cage housed flocks, possibly due to a higher activity level and the need to search for feed.  Heavier birds had more fractures, so in a chicken or egg type of question, did heavier birds have more keel fractures because of their weight, or were they heavier because of less activity due to the fracture? Production parameters and behaviour were not evaluated in this study.

More work is indicated to identify specific risk factors and etiology of keel fractures, especially if non-cage housing becomes more common in North America. These findings indicate that younger hens, between 20 and 35 weeks of age, showed the highest incidence of keel bone fractures and should be the focus of future studies.

As the layer industry continues to evolve, the benchmarking of welfare indicators from alternative housing systems from this study will help to ensure that progress is being made to improve the well-being of the hens.

This research was funded by Egg Farmers of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. The researchers would like to thank participating egg farmers in Ontario for allowing access to their flocks and records.




Bas Rodenburg’s focus is to optimize breeding, rearing and management strategies in laying hens to prepare them for life in a complex large flock, non-cage environment. His research is coupled with dialogue with the industry to see what actually works

With the ban on conventional cage systems in Europe in 2012, the same birds that once lived in cages of four are now living in groups of 30 to 100 birds in furnished cages or up to 6,000 birds in open systems. A further ban on beak trimming, already in place in Scandinavia, Switzerland and Austria, will come into force in 2018 in the Netherlands.

For Bas Rodenburg, assistant professor at the Behavioural Ecology Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, these restrictions have created a sense of urgency to mitigate specific welfare issues with all systems: feather pecking, cannibalism, keel bone fractures and smothering.

Rodenburg’s focus is to optimize breeding, rearing and management strategies in laying hens to prepare them for life in a complex large flock, non-cage environment. His research is coupled with dialogue with the industry to see what actually works.

The transition from caged housing systems has been both positive and negative, Rodenburg told the audience at a lecture hosted by the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph. Birds now have more space, access to a nest and perch, and some litter for scratching and dust bathing. The negative? The birds are more challenging to manage, with the possibility of problems and panic reactions spreading through the entire house.

Severe feather pecking is a common issue related to normal foraging behaviour that is then re-directed to other birds, said Rodenburg. It is more likely to occur with more sensitive birds, especially if there are external stresses: the birds don’t sleep, become agitated and the result is feather pecking.

This behaviour has a strong genetic component. Rodenburg pointed to a PhD thesis done by Elske De Haas at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, investigating if there could be less feather damage by selecting birds that were less easily stressed?

Of the two genotypes studied, Dekalb White birds were more sensitive to stress, while ISA Brown cross birds were more sensitive to the environment, said Rodenburg. Basically, there was more to be gained in white hens from selection for decreased stress sensitivity and more to be gained in brown hens from changes to the environment.

What about feather pecking during rearing? Rodenburg says this behaviour appears at five weeks of age, both gentle feather pecking, where the victim doesn’t move away, and severe feather pecking, which usually develops as an adult. Coincidentally, five weeks of age is when birds are usually set free in rearing systems.

Since feather pecking is re-directed foraging behaviour, Rodenburg said litter is of key importance: giving them forages or litter can help re-direct their pecking. De Haas’ research has shown that if litter is disrupted or limited before five weeks of age, an increase in feather pecking will result at 40 weeks of age. Rearing systems where the chicks hatch, drop down into litter and have immediate access to feed and water – as Rodenburg says, “get on with life” – may be favourable for their early development.

At 40 weeks of age, four feather-pecking factors remained significant. During rearing, those that displayed high feather pecking at five weeks continued to do so at 40 weeks; birds showing a high fear of humans were also more inclined to feather peck. During the lay, there was more feather pecking damage in floor houses – older systems – than in aviaries; larger groups also had more damaged feathers.

Where birds were considered high fear, Rodenburg suggested habituating the birds to different people or different colour clothing to reduce stress. He also noticed that feather pecking was more of an issue where farmers had not modified their management – those that fed alfalfa hay, turned on the radio or supplied pecking blocks had fewer feather-damaged birds.

Rodenburg offered four solutions to reduce feather pecking, beginning with further exploring novel methods of group selection such as the white/brown difference. Reducing the fear and stress to the parent stock can be accomplished by exposing the birds to more people. During rearing, continuous access to litter, especially at five weeks of age, should reduce feather pecking; and for laying hens, continuous access to litter remains important. He also suggests that assessing the fear level of the birds at five weeks can be used as a predictor of later behaviour.

At all links of the chain, Rodenburg points to management factors such as feed composition and quality, litter quality, and limiting fear and stress to reduce the incidence of feather pecking.

What about keel bone fractures? It’s a new problem, said Rodenburg, but the major causes remain unclear. One Swiss study has shown moderate to severe deformities in six to 48 per cent of birds, and including slight deformities increases the incidence of fractures to 83 per cent. Do they physically just have a lot of accidents, hitting the cage system with their keel bone? Is it about bone health? Layers deposit a lot of calcium into their eggshells that may lead to weaker bones. Both hypotheses could be right, said Rodenburg.

In his study from 2008, Rodenburg found that 62 percent of birds had minor fractures in furnished cages compared to 87 per cent in non-cage systems. How do minor fractures affect welfare? That’s another area to explore, said Rodenburg.

Housing system characteristics may be a factor as well. Using wire floors increased the incidence of fractures versus plastic floors, in the work of PhD student Jasper Heerkens at the ILVO in Ghent, Belgium. Was plastic a better landing surface? Yet another area where more research is needed, said Rodenburg.

Work done by Ari Stratmann in Bern, Switzerland, suggested that extra ramps in aviary systems resulted in less fractures, as did soft perches. Her genotype selection work proposed that selection for stronger bones resulted in fewer fractures but poorer egg quality. Can we find a balance, asked Rodenburg, or use nutrition to accommodate the difference? Research is also now studying training the birds to use new, complex, three-level systems to reduce fracture rates.

Smothering is another welfare issue that is seen in non-cage or free range systems. The birds at the bottom can die. “It’s difficult to tackle because it’s difficult to predict,” said Rodenburg. Smothering is not as big an issue with white hens that tend to be more agile and keep a larger personal space, as opposed to brown hens that are more likely to aggregate.

As a possible solution, Rodenburg described the “Eyenamic” monitoring system, developed for broilers, that measures normal aggregation activity for the flock. An alarm will sound if the flock deviates from normal, providing a practical way of knowing when something is wrong.

Do individual birds affect the social dynamic of the whole flock? De Haas found that having a fearful, highly active bird in a group affected stress-sensitivity of the group members.

Chicks brooded with a foster mother are less fearful, perform more ground pecking, and perform less feather pecking; but how can this be applied commercially? Do changes in rearing affect brain morphology, encouraging lasting changes, similar to the changes found in birds reared by a mother?

Light exposure during incubation may be a factor in producing less-stressed chicks. Does light at specific stages result in more gentle feather pecking? A recent study by Archer and Mench (2013) suggests that 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark during incubation created favourable effects in broilers, possibly through increased brain lateralization.

Commercial incubation may also involve high noise levels. When chicks hatch they communicate with each other but in a commercial setting they can’t hear each other. Rodenburg suggests that the hatch window could possibly be reduced if the chicks could communicate, reducing the time they need to spend in the incubator. In a study where chicks from one to 17 days old were monitored, quiet chicks were more synchronized, emitting lots of social vocalizations. He can only speculate about how this affects their later behaviour. This is currently being studied in Wageningen.

There are still many questions. For all welfare issues we want to better understand the group social dynamics and how to manipulate them, said Rodenburg. The ultimate goal is to rear laying hens that perform well in non-cage systems.




August 20, 2014 - Burnbrae Farms has gifted $500,000 to the University of Guelph to establish the Burnbrae Farms Professorship in Poultry Welfare, a tenure track position in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science.  Dr. Alexandra Harlander will assume this position and will serve the poultry industry with her insights on animal welfare and behavior in all poultry species. 

The professorship will support egg farmers and increase the capacity for the ongoing research of laying hen behaviour and housing. The main objective of the research is to solve problems associated with alternative non-cage systems and to better understand the behaviour and biology of the laying hen. This research will support the adoption of new practices, the design of systems that are best suited for the hens’ welfare and the implementation of new technology to improve the quality of life of laying hens on the farm.  

Margaret Hudson, President of Burnbrae Farms, said in a release "the University of Guelph has played a significant role in the support of animal welfare and behavior, and the research they conduct is unmatched. This professorship will help increase its capacity and will be unique in its outreach efforts to farmers, the general public and retailers.”

The professorship, also partially funded by the Poultry Industry Council and the Canadian Poultry Research Council, will focus on research, teaching, industry service and educating farmers, retailers and consumers. Consumers’ preferences continue to drive the demands of retailers and the specialty egg market in Canada.  Professor Harlander is an associated faculty member of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare, an internationally recognized centre of excellence, and will work to balance on-farm productivity and poultry welfare, with the needs of the general public.

“Burnbrae Farms’ commitment to the industry, animal welfare and consumers is evident in its support of this innovative position,” said Rob Gordon, Dean of the Ontario Agricultural College of the University of Guelph in a news release. “We need champions to communicate with farmers, retailers and consumers. This position will focus on working with the entire value chain to enhance production systems and approaches, and educate on the issue of poultry welfare and behaviour.”

“This professorship is exceptionally timely. With pressing demands from the public and food industry professionals, Canada, like many countries, needs research to help establish new, high-care standards based on sound data”, said Alexandra Harlander, Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science, who is accepting the professorship. “Canadians consume about 204 eggs per person, annually and vast quantities are produced in modern production systems. For the improvement of poultry welfare it is important that we continue to explore the core aspects of their health and strive to determine what they want from their environments.” 

Burnbrae Farms said the release that researching and developing systems that focus on the overall welfare of the hens is part of the company’s mandate. The company has worked closely with researchers at the Poultry Welfare Research Centre at the University of Guelph to examine poultry housing systems and related hen behaviours for many years.  Burnbrae Farms said its goal is to implement the best possible technologies for good poultry care, and that it continues to evolve and change its housing systems based on new research findings. The company’s support of the professorship only further solidifies its ongoing commitment to poultry welfare in Canada. 

“Burnbrae Farms is dedicated to animal welfare and the promotion of sustainable agriculture systems that provide consumers with safe, affordable food and a good quality of life for the laying hens,” said Hudson. “We’re committed to putting in place systems that have been proven through research to provide the best welfare for our birds.”



Increasing consumer awareness of animal welfare issues is impacting how eggs are produced and marketed. Some jurisdictions have passed legislation prohibiting the use of conventional cages and requiring that hens be housed in alternative systems, while a growing number of food retailers and manufacturers require eggs they sell/use to come from alternative housing systems.

While the vast majority of eggs sold in Canada are still produced in conventional cages it is expected that demand for eggs from enhanced animal welfare production systems will grow in Canada. The relative immaturity of this “specialty egg” market means that consumer acceptance and willingness to pay for eggs from enhanced animal welfare production systems is still poorly understood in Canada.

For this reason, Yiqing Lu, former MSc. student in the Department of Food, Agricultural & Resource Economics and advisors Dr. John Cranfield and Tina Widowski developed a project seeking to generate new economic knowledge that helps to inform industry stakeholders regarding consumer acceptance and valuation of eggs from enhanced animal welfare production systems, and the potential size of the market for such eggs.

The specific objectives were to understand the socio-demographic and psychographic factors associated with consumer acceptance of eggs from animal welfare enhanced production systems, including enriched and cage-free systems; To identify and measure the size of consumer segments with a high degree of acceptance of eggs from these different systems; To measure consumer’s stated willingness-to-pay (WTP) for eggs from these different systems; And to explore how stated willingness to pay varies across segments of consumers, as well as segments of consumers with differing actual purchase behaviours of eggs from these systems.

Two choice experiments (CE) were designed. In each choice experiment, respondents were presented with a set of choice tasks. In each choice task, the respondent was presented with eggs embodying different attributes, and they had to indicate which, if any, they would purchase. The attributes of eggs in the first choice experiment were: price; housing systems; organization that verifies the housing systems; Omega-3; and shell colour. The attributes of eggs in the second choice experiment were: price; whether hens had access to the outdoors; whether cages were used in the housing system; and the availability of nest boxes, perches for roosting and scratch pads for dust bathing.

The effect of information on consumers’ purchase behaviour towards eggs from enhanced animal welfare production systems was also investigated by including two information treatments in each choice experiment. In treatment 1, a description of the housing systems from whence the eggs came was provided. In treatment 2, the same information was provided, plus additional, scientifically based information regarding the consequences of each housing system on: hens’ health, hens’ ability to exhibit natural behaviours, affective states; and the impact of housing systems on environment. Structured this way, the two information treatments will reveal whether scientifically valid information affects consumer WTP, and if so, how. Note that WTP is not the price for the product, but rather the premium associated with that attribute.

An on-line survey was undertaken, using Ipsos’ i-Say on-line panel. The sample was representative of the Canadian population in terms of demographic characteristics. Respondents were generally concerned about animal welfare, but did not consider animal welfare among the top issues when purchasing food. Of the three aspects of animal welfare, namely basic health and functioning, natural behaviour, and affective states, “basic health and functioning” was viewed as most important. Respondents’ knowledge of animal production was limited, and they believed that scientific evidence, rather than ethical or moral considerations, should be used to determine how farm animals are treated.

The results from the choice experiment were informative. In choice experiment 1 treatment 1, respondents were willing to pay a premium of $1.15 ($0.86 in treatment 2) per dozen for free-range and $0.55 ($0.28 in treatment two) per dozen for free-run systems. The premiums for these two housing systems were higher than the premiums for Omega-3 fatty acid enhanced eggs, or white/brown colour attribute. However, eggs from an enriched cage system did not induce a positive premium; in fact eggs from a system labeled as “enriched cage system” had a discount of $0.31 per dozen in treatment 1 and $0.33 per dozen in treatment 2. For verification attributes, respondents were willing to pay a premium of $0.69 in treatment 1 (or $0.60 in treatment 2) if government verifies the housing systems, $0.16 (or $0.18 in treatment 2) for a third party certifier verification and $0.22 (or $0.11 in treatment 2) for industry certifier.

In choice experiment 2, eggs from systems where hens had access to the outdoors yielded the highest WTP ($0.63 in treatment 1 and $0.57 in treatment 2) followed by “the presence of nest boxes, perches for roosting and scratch pads for dust bathing” ($0.45 in treatment 1 and $0.44 in treatment 2), and the cage-free attribute ($0.19 in treatment 1 and $0.08 in treatment 2). The latter result suggests a premium for the absence of cages in the housing systems; viewed another way, the presence of cages in the housing system would result in a discount. This is an important result and it aligns with the results from experiment 1; it suggests that consumers value the absence of cages in hen housing. Respondents were willing to pay $0.01 in treatment 1 ($0.004 in treatment 2) for every square inch increase in a housing system.

Comparing the WTP results from two information treatments in each choice experiment allows one to assess the effect of information. In choice experiment 1, the provision of additional information in treatment 2 resulted in lower premiums for eggs from free-run and free-range housing systems (compared to treatment one). Across the two treatments, there were no other significant differences in WTP for the other attributes in choice experiment 1. In choice experiment 2, the WTP for the cage-free attribute decreased in treatment two, but not for the other attributes. As there were no differences in sample characteristics across treatments, we may attribute the disparity in WTPs across the treatments to differences in the information that was provided.

Consequently, it is concluded that information on the consequences of each housing systems on hen health and welfare reduces consumer valuation of eggs from free-run and free-range systems (and their valuation of the absence of cages generally).

Although consumers have limited knowledge about animal production system and animal welfare, they are sensitive to information about housing systems. It is important for egg producers to communicate well with consumers. Providing detailed information about the consequences of the housing systems on hen health and welfare reduces consumer valuation of eggs from free-run and free-range. And while respondents value the absence of cages (or discount eggs from systems that use cages), this value is also reduced when information on the consequences of the system on hen health and welfare is presented to subjects. An important lesson from this is that use of the word cage (e.g. enriched cages) should be avoided lest the price consumers would pay will be reduced. 

Head and feather pecking behaviour in turkeys can escalate to severe pecking and cannibalism under commercial conditions, creating a significant welfare concern and economic loss. What causes this type of pecking, and what can be done to reduce its incidence?

In a review published in the World’s Poultry Science Journal* in December 2013, authors Hillary A. Dalton, Benjamin J. Wood and Stephanie Torrey examined the different types of injurious pecking in turkeys and the factors that may contribute to the behaviour, including environment, genetics and nutrition.

Injurious pecking can be differentiated as three distinct behaviours in turkeys. Head, neck or snood pecking is described as a form of aggression is often used to retain dominance and typically follows a social disturbance. Feather pecking occurs on many different levels, from gentle to more forceful repeated pecking or plucking of feathers on the back, wings and tail of another bird. In its gentlest form, feather pecking is considered as a form of social preening or investigatory behaviour; escalating to more severe feather pecking that involves loss and consumption of plumage and escape behaviour by the victim. If bleeding occurs as a result of feather pecking, the most severe behaviour of cannibalism
often follows.

All three levels of injurious pecking behaviour result in animal welfare and production efficiency issues. While there is no consensus on the cause, injurious pecking behaviour may possibly be traced to a mismatch of the needs of young turkeys to the conditions supplied in a commercial environment. For example, it is possible that the fluorescent or incandescent lighting typically used in commercial settings may distort the appearance of emerging feathers and initiate investigatory pecking.

Toms are more likely than hens to exhibit head pecking behaviour, becoming more aggressive following sexual maturity. In the wild, young birds will head peck as a precursor to developing the skills required by mature birds to establish the “pecking order” in the flock. If this behaviour is learned, is it possible that isolating those individuals with a pecking propensity could help prevent the spread of this behaviour through the flock?

The need to peck is shaped by genetics, environment and nutrition. Current research in turkeys considers head pecking as an act of aggression but it can also represent re-directed foraging behaviour. A lack of environmental stimuli may be a motivator although some research has shown that birds still peck other birds even if foraging material is made available.

Farm management practices that may heighten stress on the birds, such as poor ventilation, inappropriate humidity,
temperature extremes, flies or parasites, high stocking densities, inappropriate lighting, management changes or foot problems may contribute to injurious pecking.

Interestingly, unlike other forms of injurious pecking, the rate of aggressive head pecking in turkeys is affected by familiarity of the birds. Male turkeys will peck unfamiliar individuals in a group as small as four birds.

The presence of numerous confounding variables has prevented meaningful insight into the relationship between genetics and injurious pecking. Has selection for larger, faster-growing birds unintentionally selected for higher rates of aggression? When exposed to similar environments, traditional lines displayed fewer injuries than modern lines, but it is difficult to specifically pinpoint the traits involved.

Pecking behaviour may also arise as a result of a nutritionally unsuitable diet or inappropriate feed form. Studies have shown that turkeys fed a crumble or mash diet versus pelleted, with higher fibre, and provided free choice instead of restricted, spend more time foraging and less time feather pecking.

Beak trimming with infrared lasers immediately following hatching is the current practice used to reduce injurious pecking. While preferable to hot-blade beak trimming, there are still concerns about the procedure being performed without analgesia. It is also possible that beak trimming increases the incidence of feather pecking by increasing frustration in the bird’s physical inability to grasp the feathers.

Lower light intensity is often employed to reduce injurious pecking but it may also lead to eye abnormalities and musculoskeletal disorders; reduced lighting also hinders the detection of injured or lame birds. Removing the snood from toms, another common procedure, can also lead to chronic pain if not done correctly.

As stated in the World’s Poultry Science journal article, “Concern over trading one welfare concern for another has fostered interest in developing less drastic alternatives, such as genetic selection for gentler birds, environmental enrichment, and changes to diet, to reduce injurious pecking in turkeys…With this information it should be possible to design strategies to reduce injurious pecking, to lead to improvements in both welfare and production.”

The researchers are supported through the Canadian Poultry Research Council, Poultry Industry Council, Hybrid Turkeys and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

*Dalton, H.A., B.J. Wood and S. Torrey. 2013. Injurious pecking in domestic turkeys: development, causes, and potential solutions. World’s Poult. Sci. J. 69:865-876

February 18, 2014, Guelph, Ont. — Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz today announced an investment of $4 million to the Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC).

The research will focus on helping the poultry processing industry remain competitive, while addressing consumer concerns about poultry welfare and environmental preservation. This will include developing new vaccines, finding viable alternatives to the use of dietary antibiotics in chicken production, reducing the environmental footprint of poultry farms and providing poultry farmers access to high-calibre training opportunities.

This investment builds on research funding previously received through AAFC’s Canadian Agri-Science Clusters Initiative as part of Growing Forward.This investment is made through the Industry-led Research and Development stream of AAFC’s AgriInnovation Program, a five-year, up to $698-million initiative under Growing Forward 2.

Roelef Meijer, chair of the Canadian Poultry Research Council says that Canada's poultry industry has made embracing innovation part of the industry's vision in recognition of the need to be dynamic and to foster efficiency for farmers and its industry partners.

"This announcement of funding for a second Poultry Science Cluster is a substantial contribution to the sector's future," he says.  "It will enable researchers to find more immediate answers to industry issues and to provide important information to farmers, stakeholders and consumers."








Government funding organizations are increasingly looking to industry to show a commitment to research and ensure that funds are allocated to address industry priorities. The industry has responded by increasing its co-operation in setting research priorities and making funding commitments.

For example, a broad range of industry stakeholders provided input on the research priorities and desired outcomes recently published in the National Research Strategy for Canada’s Poultry Sector, available on the “Research” page of our website, www.cp-rc.ca.  The document is designed as a general road map to help guide Canadian poultry research efforts over the next several years through co-operation, co-ordination and communication, so that all those involved in Canadian poultry research are working together to develop the most effective and efficient research system possible. The strategy will be reviewed and updated regularly based on industry consultation, in order to ensure that it reflects changes in the poultry sector.

Industry co-operation in funding was evident in CPRC’s recent proposal for a new Poultry Science Cluster to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriInnovation Program. Nineteen industry organizations and companies committed over $1.7 million to support the cluster’s five-year program to aid 18 research projects. Nine of the funding co-operators are producer organizations and 10 are corporations providing poultry industry inputs or processing poultry products.  

The research projects fall into four major themes:
  1. Infectious diseases of poultry
  2. Alternative animal health products and management strategies
  3. Poultry welfare and well-being
  4. Environmental stewardship
Announced in September 2012, CPRC’s Research Sponsorship Program presents an opportunity for further funding and co-operation through the support of Aviagen Inc., the inaugural sponsor. Aviagen continues to support Canadian poultry research with its 2013 sponsorship contribution, which will be used to enhance the annual research contributions from CPRC’s member organizations. A review of CPRC-funded research projects showed that all parts of the poultry value chain benefit from research discoveries, including producers, feed suppliers, animal health-care companies and professionals, processors, distributors and consumers.    

CPRC’s Research Sponsorship Program offers a range of support levels to allow industry stakeholders to choose a sponsorship option that fits their budget. Details of the research sponsorship program, sponsor benefits and an application can be found on the “Sponsorship” page of our website. CPRC’s board and member organizations thank Aviagen Inc. for its leadership in supporting Canadian poultry research.

Brian Bilkes has replaced Cheryl Firby as the Canadian Hatching Egg Producers (CHEP) representative on the CPRC Board. We thank Cheryl for her valuable input during her three years on the board and look forward to working with Brian. Brian has been the alternate director to CHEP from British Columbia since March 2010. Brian serves as chair of CHEP’s research committee and the Canadian Broiler Hatching Egg Producers’ Association. Brian is also the vice-chair of the B.C. Broiler Hatching Egg Commission (BCBHEC) and has served on the board of the BCBHEC since 2008.

Brian graduated from Trinity Western University with an honours bachelor of business administration in 1994. After working in the construction and real estate development industry for a number of years, he purchased a broiler hatching egg operation in Chilliwack, B.C., in 2005. He always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, a hatching egg producer in Seaforth, Ont., from the 1960s to the 1980s. Brian also is involved with a large dairy operation in Chilliwack, and a meat wholesale and retail operation in B.C. He passionately supports research and wants to see the poultry and agricultural industries continually improve to the long-term benefit of poultry and agriculture in Canada.

For more details on any CPRC activities, please contact The Canadian Poultry Research Council, 350 Sparks Street, Suite 1007, Ottawa, ON K1R 7S8, phone: 613-566-5916, fax: 613-241-5999, e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit us at

The membership of the CPRC consists of 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.
Jul. 17, 2013. The Poultry Service Industry Workshop has created a scholarship fund on behalf of the Workshop speakers, in lieu of gifts, allowing a maximum of three students to attend the Workshop free of charge.

The scholarship will cover the costs of registration and accommodation. However, students will be responsible for their own transportation.

Any student with an active interest in poultry research can apply for the scholarship by completing this form and submitting a short essay explaining why they feel they deserve the opportunity to attend the Workshop.

Submission deadline is Friday, September 6th, 2013.

To obtain an application form, contact the Workshop Coordinator, Lisa Doyle at 1-800-267-9180 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
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