GERMANY - A poultry welfare research project has been presented with a funding award by Dr Maria Flachsbarth, Parliamentary State Secretary at the agriculture ministry.
The project, led by the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover, is called "Integhof" and aims to prevent killing of male layer chicks by researching the use of dual-purpose poultry breeds.
In the project, scientists will examine whether the so-called dual-purpose chicken is suitable as an alternative to conventional genetic lines.
Professor Silke Rautenschlein leads the project. She explained: "We will compare the two chicken lines with respect to a variety of points." These include health parameters, such as bone quality and stability of the immune system, observations about animal behaviour and animal welfare, or effects of feeding on animal health and performance.
The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture is funding the project with a total of 1.8 million euros.
The full title of the project is: "Poultry farming restructured: Integration of fattening and egg production with the use of dual-purpose chicken as a measure for animal welfare".
The dual-purpose chickens and comparison breeds will live on a Teaching and Research Farm in Ruthe, which has been specially adapted to house the project. In addition to preventing the need for slaughter of male layer chicks, the researchers also hope the animals will be able to cope without beak trimming, and that there will be a reduced incidence of fractures.
"We assume that the dual-purpose chicken has less tendency to feather pecking and cannibalism," said Prof Rautenschlein.
The dual-purpose breed does grow more slowly, with animals intended for meat production being fattened for approximately 70 days, with a final weight of two kilograms. This compares to conventional broiler breeds, which are slaughtered after about 32 to 42 days, weighing about 2.5 kilograms.
Investigations will be conducted into the feasibility and economic aspects of using the dual-purpose breeds, as well as consumer attitudes and acceptance.
Prof Rautenschlein explained: "These are very important points for the feasibility of our concept.
"Because the hens lay about 50 fewer eggs per year, which are also smaller, and the broilers are lighter with a longer growing period, means the concept for the farmers at first sight presents economic losses.
"More animal protection also costs more money. We are curious to see whether consumers are willing to pay the price. "ThePoultrySite News Desk