NE1022: Poultry Production Systems: Optimization of Production and Welfare Using Physiological, Behavioral and Physical Assessments
Statement of Issues and JustificationOver the last three decades, per capita consumption of poultry has steadily increased in the U.S. and globally. Improved poultry production systems have contributed to significantly enhanced performance traits (egg production, growth rates, meat yields, livability, feed conversion) and are responsible for providing economic, nutritious, and safe food choices. However, the poultry industry is increasingly challenged to address consumer and general public concerns about animal welfare and environmental issues. Pressure from well-intentioned groups using outdated, unscientific information, as well as misunderstandings of consumers removed from agriculture, have resulted in substantial redefinition of acceptable production practices. Tensions between optimal production (safe, affordable food), welfare of birds in production, and perceptions of consumers will likely continue and intensify in the near term; it is imperative that future production practices are based on sound science that includes a strong emphasis on bird physiology and behavioral indicators of well-being in optimum housing environments. This particular multi-state project is uniquely positioned to generate exactly the kind of information and knowledge needed to prevent costly restrictions on the poultry industry and at the same time to help the industry provide optimum and humane production conditions.
To optimize production, it is essential that important environmental conditions be well defined and that interactions among various components of the system be identified. Production optimization requires that the physiological basis for the bird's response to its complex environment be well understood. It also requires that the interactions between multiple environmental factors (thermal, gaseous, nutritional, social) and genetics be elucidated as well as the ways in which multiple environmental factors converge to disrupt physiological processes, resulting in, for example, ascites, respiratory impairment, skeletal deformations, reproductive failure, all of which have profound impacts on the poultry industry. A recent estimate of annual economic losses to the poultry industry because of heat stress related mortality and production decreases (all segments) is $125 to $165 million (St. Pierre et al., 2003). The deaths, in 1995, of layers in Iowa during a 2-wk heat wave amounted to ~$9 million in losses (Xin, 1998). The effects of heat stress on the poultry industry are thus not insignificant. In addition to substantial financial losses, these conditions compromise welfare and performance of individual birds. An interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to addressing these problems is essential because of the multifaceted nature of poultry production systems and the reciprocal and simultaneous effects on different aspects of performance or welfare.
The critical questions proposed as the focus of this project are as follows: 1) What physiological and behavioral parameters are disrupted by stress episodes of various types and durations, and how are they disrupted mechanistically? 2)Can the disruptions be prevented or reversed by environmental manipulations? 3)What management technologies are suggested by answering Questions 1 and 2?
Animal-environment interactions are complex. No environmental factor exerts its influence on animals in a vacuum, nor does any physiological response occur without affecting other systems. Increased sophistication of analytical and data processing methodologies, and greater precision of environmental control systems, increase the desirability of multi-disciplinary research efforts. In addition, research to address these complex interactions can be maximized when expertise is pooled and efforts are collaborative rather than isolated and individual. In times of tight budgets, sharing birds, facilities, and resources surely makes good sense, in that maximum return for dollars spent can be realized. Duplication of effort is minimized by crossing state and university lines to focus the tremendous scientific expertise of the committee members (physiologists, nutritionists, behaviorists, agricultural engineers, information systems analyst) of this unique multi-discipline, multi-state project on questions of critical importance to the poultry industry. In addition, a unique element of this project is the strong extension component. Many of the contributing members of the project have a primary extension appointment and thus are in direct and continual contact with poultry producers which facilitates the flow of information in both directions and strengthens the effectiveness of the project.
Although specific inter-state and university linkages will be indicated later in the proposal, some of the critical and unique instruments and facilities that will be shared/used collaboratively are spectral radiometers (CT) and audiology analysis systems (CT, NE), hypo/hyperbaric chambers (TX), emission chambers (IL), multi-channel telemetric body temperature sensing system with ingestible sensors (IA), infrared thermal imager for quantification of surface temperature distribution (IA), multi-station individual bird feeding units (IA), single-bird indirect calorimeters with infrared cameras and computerized data acquisition equipment and environmentally regulated production facilities for simulating field testing (NE, MD, MS(ARS)), environmental chambers for light control (CA), and four large-scale indirect animal calorimeters/emission chambers that allow for simulation of commercial production settings (IA). These are highly specialized pieces of equipment and/or facilities already in place that would be prohibitive to reproduce at other universities; collaborative use through this project maximizes both efficiency of use and research productivity. In addition, this project has the distinct advantage of behavioral expertise (CA, MD, NE) that is usually lacking in projects not specifically focused on behavior.
Successful completion of the endeavors outlined in this proposal will lead to 1) increased knowledge of basic physiological and behavioral processes in poultry; 2) identification of meaningful relationships between environmental factors and their associated production and economic ramifications; and, 3) enhanced management-decision making and action taking initiatives. With this information, housing environments can be optimized by defining environmental conditions (aerial, thermal, spectral, spatial, and nutritional) and management practices that will result in production systems which promote bird welfare and performance.
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