Environmental enrichments for broilers (Poultry Specialist)
(Editor’s note: Jennifer Timmons is an assistant professor with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.)
Animal welfare continues to be an important issue for animal agriculture.
Environmental enrichments for production can be used as part of a company’s welfare program.
Environmental enrichments have been shown to have positive physiological and behavioral effects on a variety of species.
The goal of using enrichment strategies is to improve the biological functioning of the animal.
Enrichment strategies should be based on an understanding of the animal’s behavior and physiology.
Additionally, enrichments should be attractive, and interesting to the animal to result in the desired performance outcome.
Two main categories of enrichment strategies for broilers have been described.
The literature has described the first category as conventional environments enriched with objects such as perches or pecking objects.
The second category of enrichment is a more complex enriched environment that has been developed to meet the animals’ behavioral needs within those environments.
These complex enriched environments can be either with access to the outside or more complex indoor systems.
A review by researchers in the Netherlands summarized different studies that have evaluated various perches or platform systems for broilers and different panels, barriers and bales.
These different studies used different breeds of chickens to evaluate the efficacy of various perches or platforms.
It was concluded that both slow and fast growing broilers utilized the perches.
In addition it was also reported that broilers do use panels, barriers and bales of straw to perch on or as a means to lay against for resting.
The researchers also concluded from the literature, that panels and barriers can influence uniform bird distribution throughout the house.
There is limited research evaluating the more complex enrichment systems.
However it was concluded that slow growing broilers seemed to benefit more from outdoor spaces because they were more apt to use the outdoor space and they were more active and traveled further than fast growing broilers.
Recently, researchers at Iowa State University completed research to evaluate if it would be practical to use a laser device in a broiler house to stimulate the birds to be more active.
The laser environmental enrichment device was used throughout a six week flock cycle.
The researchers hypothesized that using the laser device would cause the birds to be more active to walk around and seek out feed as a result of stimulating their natural predatory behavior.
The researchers reported positive results due to the laser enrichment.
Broiler activity from two to five weeks of age increased and weight gain and feed conversion improved.
In addition to the performance measurements, bird welfare parameters were measured.
The researchers reported that gait score (how well the bird walked), tibia strength and air and litter quality were not negatively affected by the use of the laser treatment.
The principle investigator on this project indicated that the laser device was simple and useful to install and did require the care of the birds to change as a result of its implementation.
No management system is perfect that accounts for all animal behavioral, physiological and other needs.
More research is needed in this area to determine if additional enrichment strategies can be easily and economically implemented into the poultry industry.
If enrichment strategies are used, it is important that the methods practiced promote successful results.
In order to ensure an animal’s environment is enriched, they should be displaying natural behaviors, and the amount of undesirable behaviors displayed should be minimal.
These environmental enrichment strategies may be another tool for poultry companies to improve production performance and enhance their animal welfare program.
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