Chicken Run Innovation Project – Enrichment for Broilers

Chicken Run Innovation Project - Enrichment for Broilers

Chicken Run Innovation Project - Enrichment for Broilers

Author: Carly Scott, FAI Farms
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Worldwide chickens are raised in environments with little stimulation or opportunity to express their full range of natural behaviours. Allowing for the expression of natural behaviours is important for the health and welfare of an animal. To help achieve this, FAI Farms partnered with UK retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) and Sustain at the Royal College of Art (RCA) to develop novel forms of environmental enrichment for broilers.

Chicken Run Innovation Project - Enrichment for Broilers

Environmental enrichment is the provision of stimuli which promote the expression of species-appropriate behavioural activities and biological functioning of the animal.

To be effective, enrichment should:

  • Maintain the interest of the birds
  • Increase the occurrence of desirable behaviours
  • Decrease detrimental behaviours and
  • Be practical to implement, e.g. easy to disinfect across successive flocks

Commonly used enrichment devices in commercial broiler houses today often do not meet these criteria (See Table 1 below). The goal of the ‘Chicken Run’ innovation project is to address this gap by producing and testing prototypes that meet:

  • The needs of the birds,
  • Is practical for producers to use
  • Provides environmental benefits, such as reducing feed requirements or making use of waste materials.

A novel approach to welfare

Sustain was established by the RCA in 2011 to inspire, encourage and support students to embrace sustainability in their work. Sustain helps students from across the RCA use innovation to address pressing social and environmental issues.

At an annual event they run in October called AcrossRCA, students from different disciplines come together to work on live projects. The event consists of one week of development, one week of workshops and four to five weeks of final ideas development.

At the workshop, which was open to 25 students from across the Royal College of Art, students were selected to form a team to design and innovate novel forms of enrichment for chickens. The teams then developed and evolved their ‘enrichment ideas’ with the guidance and support of the Sustain team and RCA workshop leaders.

Chicken Run Innovation Project - Enrichment for Broilers

Innovation in practice

Testing of the prototypes is now underway at commercial farms in the UK. Testing includes comparisons of production parameters, M&S welfare Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and behavioural observations. Once the testing is complete, FAI will work closely with the designer teams to refine each enrichment idea to make them ready for market.

Table 1. Benefits and problems associated with commonly used types of enrichment in commercial broiler houses

Enrichment

Benefits

Problems

Perches

1. Strong evidence for birds wanting to perch

1. Commercial broilers are physically unable to perch after about 20 days of age and rarely use perches above 10inches.
2. It is not possible to provide perching space for all birds in a house.
3. Additional obstacles for stock people to navigate.
4. Can be difficult to clean down and disinfect after use.

Straw bales/ wood chip bales

1. Provides substrate for exploratory/foraging behaviour.
2. Provides a substrate for dust bathing.
4. Convenient for stock people to place and no need to remove at the end of the cycle.
5. Provides spatial variation.

1. Potential problems with biosecurity.
2. Can be rapidly used up.
3. Can be difficult or expensive to maintain.
4. Birds may not be physically able to get up on bales.
5. All birds are unable to use the bales at the same time.

Pecking objects (pecking blocks, CDs, string).

1. Initial interest in pecking objects. 

1. Does not maintain birds’ interest as does not provide a reward/does not change. Often ignored after the initial placement.

Natural Light

1. Provides higher light intensity inside houses which is important for increasing activity, particularly foraging.

1. Expensive, as windows need to be fitted.
2. It is not clear which design / placement of windows is most appropriate.

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