The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in the U.K. announced that a grant has been awarded to research scientist Kate Norman with RVC's department of pathobiology and population sciences to study factors affecting bird distribution in loose-housed laying systems.
The grant was awarded by the U.K.'s Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council/Animal Welfare Research Network.
As large food retailers have announced plans to stop selling eggs from caged systems by 2025, RVC said the egg industry is likely to transition from colony cages to cage-free, multi-tier systems to meet demand.
However, RVC said this change to large loose-housed systems creates new challenges in management strategies to ensure the best environment for good welfare. Although large loose-housed commercial systems are designed to provide sufficient resources throughout the house to ensure even spacing and maintain a safe local stocking rate, highly uneven bird distribution is still observed, RVC said.
High local stocking rates are associated with welfare concerns and will adversely affect birds’ ability to use resources to fulfil their behavioral needs to nest, forage, roost and dust bathe, the announcement said.
It is possible that the thermal environment has an effect on the location preferences and, hence, distribution of birds in commercial systems, but no prior research has examined this, RVC said. Therefore, this project aims to examine the association among the environmental temperature in commercial systems, bird distribution and indicators of thermal comfort.
Understanding factors that affect bird distribution will inform egg-laying hen management to avoid high local stocking densities within cage-free commercial systems to promote better welfare, RVC added.