Developing appropriate environmental enrichment strategies for broiler breeders

Fund

AWF Research Fund

Grant

£93,857

Research Period

2021

Area of study

Breeding for Better Welfare

Description

Investigator(s): Niamh O'Connell

Research into appropriate environmental enrichment strategies for broiler (meat) chickens is advancing rapidly, with significant commercial uptake.  There is a recognised need to extend this to the parents of these birds (broiler breeders), including during the production phase.  This is required for two key reasons: (1) to facilitate highly-motivated behaviours, and (2) to reduce welfare and performance problems associated with aggression.  This aggression leads to injury and a reluctance by females to use certain parts of the house.  This, in turn, stimulates competition among males and negatively affects production performance.  Provision of covered panels appears to attract more females to central parts of the house and improve production performance.  This project will determine if it also leads to improvements in bird welfare.

Chickens are highly motivated to dustbath and perch, but there is very little information on how best to facilitate these behaviours in broiler breeders.  The team will determine preferences for dustbathing substrate (with and without a source of dietary fibre) and perch type (platform or A-Frame), and evaluate effects of providing preferred enrichments.  During these studies they will monitor use of different areas of the house (using wearable sensor technology we pioneered with broiler chickens) and broader effects on welfare, health and performance.

This project builds on the strong track record of this team of achieving research impact in poultry systems in the UK and more widely. The opportunity for rapid industry uptake is also evident in the fact that Moy Park is providing essential in-kind support.