Behavioural impacts of LED lighting on poultry

The phase-out of incandescent lighting has shone a spotlight on the need for research into the welfare and behavioural impacts of LED lighting on poultry.
Lilian Schaer, for LRIC
May 14, 2018
By Lilian Schaer, for LRIC
Researchers have noticed a reduction in fear in blue light environments compared to those using white or green lights. Pictured is Once Inc.’s dim-to-blue technology.
Researchers have noticed a reduction in fear in blue light environments compared to those using white or green lights. Pictured is Once Inc.’s dim-to-blue technology. PHOTO CREDIT: Once Inc.
Although research into the effects of LED lighting for poultry is ongoing, data often appears inconsistent. In addition, experts have focused less on behavioural and welfare aspects as compared to production.

Enter global poultry barn lighting specialist Dr. Karen Schwean-Lardner, assistant professor in poultry management and welfare at the University of Saskatchewan’s department of animal and poultry science. Schwean-Lardner works with turkeys, broilers and laying hens, and often applys a multi-dimentional approach to her research, using production, behaviour and physiological indicators to examine how various management practices impact both the welfare and productivity of birds. Schwean-Lardner and her research team recently completed an extensive research study into how lighting impacts poultry and poultry production, including the effects of day-length on melatonin production.

She has also launched a research project to determine what effects LED lighting has on the mobility, behaviour and physiological welfare of broilers by measuring the impact of the various wavelengths of barn lighting.

And she has an unlikely partner. A&W, the fast food chain that has raised the ire of many Canadian beef, pork and poultry farmers with its “no hormones, no antibiotics” marketing campaigns, approached the University of Saskatchewan last year with $45,000 in funding for expanded data collection in Schwean-Lardner’s project. A Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant and global breeding company Aviagen are also supporting her work.

“LED light is of interest because it is inexpensive to run for commercial farms,” Schwean-Lardner says. “We are not far into the project yet, but our goal is to try to see what changes occur in broiler chicken behaviour, production and welfare with different wavelengths of light.”

Schwean-Lardner and her team have completed one experiment to date, with at least three more to come. The preliminary work looked at bird behaviour to determine whether it was different depending on light colour; the next experiments will try to answer questions about why the behaviour is different and whether that impacts production, health and welfare of the birds.

“It’s still early on, but so far, we’ve noticed a reduction in fear in blue light environments compared to those using white or green lights,” she says. “It’s also a whole different experience for producers to work under blue light instead of white light too, for example.”

The three-year project was launched in fall 2017, and more definitive project results will be released and published within the next two years.

“I’ve done 40 to 50 lighting talks in last five years and producers always ask what colour and what type of light they should use,” she adds. “When it comes to poultry research, I prefer to look at everything – behaviour, production and welfare – so that if a producer or a processor asks me for more information, I have an answer.”

A&W’s funding has allowed Schwean-Lardner’s team to purchase equipment that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford. Last year, the Saskatchewan government dealt the university a significant budget blow when it reduced funding to the institution by 5.6 per cent.

According to Schwean-Lardner, light meters from Europe that are specifically designed for poultry housing and measure light intensity the way birds see it have been extremely beneficial to the research.

Lilian Schaer is a freelance writer and editor and communications specialist with Agri-Food Project Services Ltd. in Guelph, Ont.
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