Establishing Pullet Welfare Measurements and Guidelines for Growers and Managers on Commercial Poultry Farms

Progress report for GNC20-294

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2020: $14,962.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2022
Grant Recipients: Purdue University; Purdue University
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Darrin Karcher, Ph.D.
Purdue University
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Project Information

Summary:

“Establishing Pullet Welfare Measurements and Guidelines for Growers and Managers on Commercial Poultry Farms” is geared toward pullet managers and producers in the North-Central region. This region contains a large proportion of egg production in the United States. Welfare measurements will first be trialed on commercial farms in Indiana and then expanded into the entire North-Central region. Information gained will be shared through a peer-reviewed, numbered extension article and accompanying videos. These videos will demonstrate skills described in the article. If our project is successful, pullet managers and producers will acquire and implement welfare measurements and skills to evaluate and adjust their management styles on a flock-by-flock basis. As a result, the pullets will have improved immune function, increased growth and production efficiencies, and decreased stress. We are currently trialing and validating measurements of stress and welfare in pullets on a research farm. This project will test these same measurements on commercial farms. This will identify any correlation or practicality issues between experimental and in-the-field testing and results. Our measurements will include physiological, immunological, and behavioral parameters. Together, these measurements will create a comprehensive image of a pullet’s adaptability to her environment. This project’s success will depend on feedback from the managers and growers using the information. A survey will be sent to all companies receiving the extension bulletin and videos to gain insight into their influence on management behavior. This information will help the principal investigator revise the document for future disseminations.

Project Objectives:

If our extension publication and training videos are successful, we expect to see pullet managers and growers acquire knowledge about possible welfare measurements and the skills required to implement them. After managers and growers become more comfortable with understanding welfare assessments and how to complete them, they can use these assessments as a means of evaluating their pullet management (optimal management styles will produce higher welfare scores on each of the parameters measured and are preferred over styles that produce lower scores). If more managers and growers adopt these welfare assessments, they will see improved and honed-in management strategies that they can adjust on a flock-by-flock basis. This will lead to improved immune function, increased growth and production efficiencies, and decreased stress to the birds. We will evaluate successful welfare assessment implementation through a follow-up survey for producers and managers. In the long term, researchers and farm staff will have collaborated with each other in order to generate practical on-farm guidelines for the welfare and management of pullets. This may drive formal welfare certifications for pullets which are important for egg label marketing. They may be adopted by UEP and Certified Humane© labels which have standards for adult hens but not pullets.

Research

Materials and methods:

In the last year (2021-2022), data analysis from the first Purdue research farm experiment wrapped up with the help of statistical counseling services at Purdue University. No statistically significant parameters were identified in this study; no measurements of stress and poor welfare were identified for use on commercial farms. This led to follow-up studies at the Purdue research farm to identify why. The first was to evaluate if the stress response in pullets differed from adult hens using an induced hormone response. The study has wrapped up and data is currently being analyzed and corticosterone/cortisol assays being run. There was a delay due to supply shortages and issues with the assay itself. Of the data analyzed, the induced stress response was unsuccessful in altering H:L ratios, one of the parameters in our first study. The second research study wrapped up the end of February 2022 and utilized additional stressors of a tighter stocking density and reduced feeder space. Data is currently being cleaned and analyzed to identify any parameters/markers of stress and welfare that can be tested on farm. As part of that experiment, we were able to test a new vaccine system. An extension bulletin is currently being written to share the information gained from that experience. Lastly, a survey soliciting industry opinions of poultry welfare and potential stress and welfare markers on farm received IRB approval and has been sent out to several industry organizations. At present, there are approximately 92 responses. The survey will close at the end of March 2022.  Once all this data is gathered, testing on commercial farms can begin.

Research results and discussion:

TBD

Participation Summary
90 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Webinars / talks / presentations

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

A survey is currently out and has received approximately 90 responses as of March 1st, 2022. This survey will help identify producer and industry viewpoints on poultry welfare and potential welfare measurements that can be done for poultry on farm. The survey will close on March 31st, 2022.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.