Flock welfare is essential to the sustainability of the poultry industry

Animal welfare is in the eye of the beholder. Some consumers are willing to pay more for products from companies that have reputations that align with their beliefs.
calendar icon 8 July 2020
clock icon 7 minute read

Enriched colony (furnished cage) systems and outdoor (pasture) systems are also alternative laying hen housing systems. While conventional cage systems do not have enrichments such as nest boxes, perches, and dust baths, they do allow for better management of individual hen health. On the other side, cage-free and outdoor systems may promote negative welfare by increasing the incidence of bumblefoot, endo- and ecotoparasites, and mortality. The advantages and disadvantages of conventional cage, furnished cage, non-cage, and outdoor systems on key laying hen welfare indicators can be seen in a figure from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA, Figure 1).

Organic production

Organic animal production is often grouped in with sustainability, which may lead consumers to think that animal raised organically have better welfare. While many organic poultry systems do maintain high welfare standards, maintaining good health and welfare on organic poultry farms can be challenging. This means that that husbandry, or knowledge and technical skills, is crucial for managing welfare issues. The three major challenges for organic poultry production have been identified as: 1) the management of birds in outdoor systems, 2) the limited use of conventional preventative medication for vaccination and disease treatment, and 3) the quality and availability of organic feed (Van De Weerd, 2009). Further research and accessible information is needed to establish the best management practices in organic poultry systems.

Enrichments

Environmental enrichments are increasing on broiler farms in the U.S. An enrichment is any stimuli or activity that promotes positive engagement with the goal to encourage the birds to display a wider range of natural behaviors and improves welfare. Most enrichments on broiler farms today are structural, that aim to promote activity. However, many structural enrichments are difficult to keep clean, may harbor pathogens, and require additional labor during cleanout. Also, there are other forms of enrichment that may stimulate other positive effects on broilers, such as sensory (e.g. visual or olfactory) and foraging (food-related) enrichments. More research is needed to identify novel enrichments that are the best option for both the birds and the producer.

The more animal welfare standards that are scientifically validated as a threshold to which poultry welfare is positively or negatively affected, the more the sustainable U.S. poultry industry will be.

References

American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). AVMA Issues – A Comparison of cage and non-cage systems for sousing laying hens. Accessed 19 November 2019 at https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Pages/AVMA-issues-A-Comparison-of-Cage-and-Non-Cage-Systems-for-Housing-Laying-Hens.aspx

Casey-Trott, T. M. and T. M. Widowski. 2016. Behavioral differences of laying hens with fractured keel bones within furnished cages. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 42: 1-8.

Hardin, E., F.L.S. Castro, and W. K. Kim. 2019. Keel bone injury in laying hens: the prevalence of injuries in relation to different housing systems, implications, and potential solutions. World’s Poultry Science. 2019. 75:285-292.

Laywel. 2006. Welfare implications of changes in production systems for laying hens. Accessed 19 November, 2019 at https://www.laywel.eu/web/pdf/deliverable%2071%20welfare%20assessment.pdf. .

Stratmann, A., E. K. F. Froehlich, S., S.G. Gebhardt-Henrich,, A. Harlander-Matauschek, H. Wurbel, and M. J. Toscano. 2015. Modification of aviary design reduces incidence of falls, collisions and keel bone damage in laying hens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 165:112-123.

Van De Weerd, H. A., R. Keatinge, and S. Roderick. 2009. A review of key health-related welfare issues in organic poultry production. World’s Poultry Science Journal. 65:649-684.

Advantages and disadvantages of conventional cage, furnished cage, non-cage, and outdoor systems on key laying hen welfare indicators
Advantages and disadvantages of conventional cage, furnished cage, non-cage, and outdoor systems on key laying hen welfare indicators

High welfare systems vs. low welfare systems © AVMA summary of Laywel Final Report

Enriched colony (furnished cage) systems and outdoor (pasture) systems are also alternative laying hen housing systems. While conventional cage systems do not have enrichments such as nest boxes, perches, and dust baths, they do allow for better management of individual hen health. On the other side, cage-free and outdoor systems may promote negative welfare by increasing the incidence of bumblefoot, endo- and ecotoparasites, and mortality. The advantages and disadvantages of conventional cage, furnished cage, non-cage, and outdoor systems on key laying hen welfare indicators can be seen in a figure from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA, Figure 1).

Organic production

Organic animal production is often grouped in with sustainability, which may lead consumers to think that animal raised organically have better welfare. While many organic poultry systems do maintain high welfare standards, maintaining good health and welfare on organic poultry farms can be challenging. This means that that husbandry, or knowledge and technical skills, is crucial for managing welfare issues. The three major challenges for organic poultry production have been identified as: 1) the management of birds in outdoor systems, 2) the limited use of conventional preventative medication for vaccination and disease treatment, and 3) the quality and availability of organic feed (Van De Weerd, 2009). Further research and accessible information is needed to establish the best management practices in organic poultry systems.

Enrichments

Environmental enrichments are increasing on broiler farms in the U.S. An enrichment is any stimuli or activity that promotes positive engagement with the goal to encourage the birds to display a wider range of natural behaviors and improves welfare. Most enrichments on broiler farms today are structural, that aim to promote activity. However, many structural enrichments are difficult to keep clean, may harbor pathogens, and require additional labor during cleanout. Also, there are other forms of enrichment that may stimulate other positive effects on broilers, such as sensory (e.g. visual or olfactory) and foraging (food-related) enrichments. More research is needed to identify novel enrichments that are the best option for both the birds and the producer.

The more animal welfare standards that are scientifically validated as a threshold to which poultry welfare is positively or negatively affected, the more the sustainable U.S. poultry industry will be.

References

American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). AVMA Issues – A Comparison of cage and non-cage systems for sousing laying hens. Accessed 19 November 2019 at https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Pages/AVMA-issues-A-Comparison-of-Cage-and-Non-Cage-Systems-for-Housing-Laying-Hens.aspx

Casey-Trott, T. M. and T. M. Widowski. 2016. Behavioral differences of laying hens with fractured keel bones within furnished cages. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 42: 1-8.

Hardin, E., F.L.S. Castro, and W. K. Kim. 2019. Keel bone injury in laying hens: the prevalence of injuries in relation to different housing systems, implications, and potential solutions. World’s Poultry Science. 2019. 75:285-292.

Laywel. 2006. Welfare implications of changes in production systems for laying hens. Accessed 19 November, 2019 at https://www.laywel.eu/web/pdf/deliverable%2071%20welfare%20assessment.pdf. .

Stratmann, A., E. K. F. Froehlich, S., S.G. Gebhardt-Henrich,, A. Harlander-Matauschek, H. Wurbel, and M. J. Toscano. 2015. Modification of aviary design reduces incidence of falls, collisions and keel bone damage in laying hens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 165:112-123.

Van De Weerd, H. A., R. Keatinge, and S. Roderick. 2009. A review of key health-related welfare issues in organic poultry production. World’s Poultry Science Journal. 65:649-684.

Dr. Shawna Weimer

Poultry Extension Assistant Professor at University of Maryland
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