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FFAR, Open Philanthropy seek research to improve keel bone health

zlikovec/iStock/Thinkstock Red egg laying hens eating from feeder
Groups seek larger, cross-disciplinary approaches in which scientists and economists collaborate with industry stakeholders on issue.

Keel bone, or breastbone, damage in layer hens is both painful and decreases egg production, presenting challenges for egg producers across the globe. To address this issue, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and Open Philanthropy are launching the Layer Hen Keel Bone Health program to decrease the occurrence of keel bone injuries and improve welfare in commercial laying hens. This program is a continuation of FFAR and Open Philanthropy’s 2017 call for research to reduce keel bone fractures in in egg-laying hens.

Keel bone damage (KBD) is a deviation or fracture of a hen’s breastbone. KBD is a complex problem caused by housing design problems, genetics, behavior, rearing practices, feed and nutrition and other factors. Although KBD prevalence is not typically tracked in commercial settings, it is estimated that between 10-70% of birds per farm experience KBD globally.

“Keel bone damage is an obvious animal welfare concern, and one that also reduces revenue for producers,” said FFAR’s Scientific Program Director Dr. Tim Kurt. “The Layer Hen Keel Bone Health program is an opportunity to address this multifaceted issue through a cross-disciplinary research approach that focuses on collaboration across the value chain to develop scalable solutions that reduce keel bone damage, which would be a win-win for layer hens and producers.”

The three awards granted from the initial program in 2017 focused on research to improve housing design, increase gastrointestinal microbiome and deploy portable radiographic tools to evaluate bone health in live birds. While this research contributes to reducing KBD, FFAR and Open Philanthropy recognize a need for additional investment to significantly improve keel bone health at commercial scale. The current call for proposals seeks larger, cross-disciplinary approaches in which scientists and economists collaborate with egg farmers, breeding companies, equipment manufacturers and other stakeholders to develop interventions and measure progress on this issue.

The Layer Hen Keel Bone Health program seeks research related to the following topic areas: rearing practices; genetics; nutrition, feed and physiology; early detection or prediction of KBD in commercial settings; economic analyses that evaluate time, effort or equipment trade-offs to reduce KBD; and efforts to measure the impact of research and education activities. Research through this program must be scalable and focused on solutions for larger scale, commercial facilities. 

FFAR and Open Philanthropy are each providing $3 million for the Layer Hen Keel Bone Health program for a total $6 million in research funding. The program anticipates awarding between two and three grants with a $3 million maximum grant available for each awardee. Applicants may secure additional funding but are not required to do so. 

Pre-applications for this program are due June 8, 2022. Visit the Layer Hen Keel Bone Health Open Opportunity webpage for additional information including application guidelines.

The Layer Hen Keel Bone Health program welcomes applications from all domestic and international higher education institutions, nonprofit and for-profit organizations as well as government-affiliated research agencies.

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