Brain cells indicate hen welfare


Over the subsequent few years 20 institutes all through Europe will probably be finding out laying hen welfare points in enriched cage and non-cage programs. Dr Tom Smulders, a neuroscientist, says that the welfare of the birds is definitely a operate of their mind. “So you should also be able to see in the brain of the animal whether it feels good.”

The ChickenStress European Training Network (ETN) is a programme for 14 PhD college students. There are 20 analysis and different establishments concerned altogether, 12 of that are beneficiaries and eight companions, most of them are universities in Europe. The ChickenStress ETN goals to work out which elements in pullets and hens trigger stress in order that the very best strategies for top of the range animal welfare will be applied.

ChickenStress project coordinator Dr Tom Smulders of Newcastle University: “After the abolition of conventional cage systems we discovered unexpected new and sometimes serious animal welfare problems in the alternative husbandry systems.” Photo: Dick van Doorn


ChickenStress undertaking coordinator Dr Tom Smulders of Newcastle University: “After the abolition of conventional cage systems we discovered unexpected new and sometimes serious animal welfare problems in the alternative husbandry systems.” Photo: Dick van Doorn

“After the abolition of conventional cage systems we discovered unexpected new and sometimes serious animal welfare problems in the alternative husbandry systems,” explains Dr Smulders. “We wish to tackle these now very broadly.” Previous research confirmed that aviary housing programs usually tend to trigger painful keel bone injury. On prime of which free-range birds will be contaminated by pathogens within the vary and the chance of cannibalism and pecking additionally will increase.

According to ChickenStress undertaking coordinator Dr Tom Smulders of Newcastle University within the UK, it’s distinctive that specialists in neurobiology, physiology and animal behaviour and welfare are working collectively within the ChickenStress ETN with main gamers within the poultry business, together with Hendrix Genetics and Vencomatic (see chickenstress.eu for the ­remaining collaborating establishments).

The funding for the ChickenStress ETN has been offered by the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA), Horizon 2020 EU subsidy programme. This programme goals to place Europe on the map as a sexy location for analysis expertise. The software for the ChickenStress ETN was made in January 2018 and granted on the finish of that 12 months, with the undertaking launched in May 2019. In whole 14 PhDs will conduct three years of analysis, relying on the rules of their host college.


In the mind of the chook you need to be capable to detect how the animal feels and whether or not it has skilled continual stress.” – Dr Tom Smulders

Function of the mind

More than half the 14 PhDs have already began, says Tom Smulders. “Before Christmas 2019 all the PhDs should be at work.” Smulders has a substantial amount of analysis expertise himself, specializing in chook brains normally and poultry brains particularly. One facet of the undertaking could be very particular to him. This undertaking focuses on points of poultry mind operate which have by no means been explored earlier than. “Animal welfare can be considered, basically, as a function of the brain,” he continues. “In the brain of the bird you should be able to detect how the animal feels and whether it has experienced chronic stress.”

One of the analysis questions the PhDs are investigating is whether or not it’s extra animal pleasant to hatch the eggs of layer breeds in a hatchery or within the poultry home, as is finished within the broiler sector. “Practically, it is possible to hatch in the house itself,” says Smulders, “but then the next problem arises of how to select the females?” This a part of the analysis is being finished in shut collaboration with Vencomatic. “In addition, we want to find out if the light and noise of a hatchery is positive or negative for the welfare of the chick,” Smulders provides. “In nature, a broody hen also occasionally stands up, and is not constantly sitting on the eggs. Having occasional exposure to light through the egg shell seems to be important for the healthy neurological development of the chick.”

Another facet of adolescence is the expertise of the younger chicks. PhDs within the Netherlands (Utrecht University) and Flanders (ILVO, Ghent) are doing experiments with ‘dark brooders’, as they’re recognized, a cover below which the chicks relaxation, similar to they might below the wings of the hen.


Having occasional publicity to mild by the egg shell appears to be vital for the wholesome neurological growth of the chick.” – Dr Tom Smulders.

Genetic markers

Another a part of the post-graduate analysis is concentrated on the genetics of laying hens. Dr Smulders is delighted that Hendrix Genetics is contributing to the programme. “In the area of genetics, the PhDs will look at whether there are certain genetic markers that would indicate if certain laying hen hybrids can cope better with stress. Roughly speaking, our research lies between neurology and genetics. We want to gain a better understanding of how all these aspects work across both research fields. So we can make better recommendations to breeding companies about how to select stress-resilient animals, as well as to farmers about which birds are more suited to which housing systems.”

These eggs are being hatched to examine the development of the brain of the hen. Photo: Dick van Doorn


These eggs are being hatched to look at the event of the mind of the hen. Photo: Dick van Doorn

For instance, white hens react very otherwise to emphasize than brown hens, and the way they reply to totally different rearing and housing environments additionally differs. Dr Smulders needs to know why that is and relate it again to neurology and genetics. “With regard to the husbandry system,” Smulders explains, “many of the rearing houses used worldwide for pullets involve floor housing. In the next phase, the pullets are often moved to aviary houses. With all these transitions we want to look at what the physical impact is and what happens in the brain of the poultry.” Dr Michael J. Toscano from the University of Bern is researching this query and his college students will have a look at alternative ways to enhance the transition from rearing to housing programs. This can also assist to scale back keel bone injury, which is prevalent in some aviary programs.

Karina Santiago Gonzalez, a PhD student at Newcastle University, is looking at a screen showing an image of activated brain cells in a chicken brain. Photo: Dick van Doorn


Karina Santiago Gonzalez, a PhD pupil at Newcastle University, is taking a look at a display displaying a picture of activated mind cells in a rooster mind. Photo: Dick van Doorn

After eight weeks chroic stress is seen on the chook’s mind

Previous analysis on poultry brains performed by Newcastle University has proven that after as little as eight weeks the results of continual stress are seen within the mind. “Then you see differences occurring in the brains of the birds,” says Smulders. This analysis was primarily performed by a PhD pupil of the Open University of Israel. According to Smulders the benefit of the ChickenStress ETN is that so many analysis establishments are working collectively. “We all have our own expertise, of course, and we also learn from each other. Breeding and genetics is certainly an important part of the research, as is the study of the various husbandry and management systems. By bringing in brain science as well, we are able to gain new insights that would be impossible without that extra dimension.”



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