Windows in houses may boost bird productivity, professor says
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Adding windows to poultry houses can improve broilers’ quality of life and possibly their productivity, a University of Maryland researcher said last month.
Dr. Rachel Dennis, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal & Avian Sciences, studied in 2015 the effects of UV light on broilers and found that exposure to the light reduced the birds’ fear of new people during periods of high interaction such as capturing and crating.
“We did see a huge difference in how flighty they were, just having that light,” she said. “There was a lot less flapping. A lot less damage to the carcass.”
Over the course of the study, Dennis split broilers into four 50-bird groups: birds exposed to UV light for only the first three weeks of life, birds exposed at weeks four and five, birds exposed through all five weeks and birds never exposed to UV light.
When a person new to the birds entered their space, Dennis and fellow researchers measured how far they fled from that person out of fear. Broilers exposed to UV or UV and white light remained closer than those that spent their entire lives under white light exclusively, she said.
Broilers, unlike humans, are able to see UV light, Dennis said. It’s part of their color spectrum and helps them in different ways, from interpreting social cues to finding and distinguishing between sources of food. Broilers exposed to more UV light, for instance, were less likely to consume poultry litter instead of their food. Broilers under white light also foraged more frequently in areas without food.
“That’s like a whole other color to them. It’s like if you took blue out of our color spectrum,” Dennis said.
Poultry integrators have slowly encouraged more UV-friendly environments within broiler houses over the last decade as animal welfare concerns have risen in priority. Perdue announced in 2016 a plan to retrofit 200 poultry houses with windows, among a host of other bird-friendly improvements, including ramps and perches.
“It can change the way they develop, make them more natural. They’re going to be less fearful, they’re going to feed better, they’re going to be easier to handle, I hope,” Dennis said.
She said she hasn’t studied the animals inside broiler houses yet with a specific focus on how UV-friendly environments may improve the birds’ bottom-line productivity. She hopes to focus on how UV exposure could improve broiler feeding. Dennis’ study was primarily focused on bird welfare and behavior.
“Again, we haven’t done the research specifically in those houses,” she said. “But I think this suggests that having that UV light available, that Perdue and others are doing with having that windowed houses, it’s going to improve the wellbeing of the birds and hopefully the wellbeing of the farmers.”
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