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Workshop to improve welfare of billions of hens

Workshop to improve welfare of billions of hens - 6 May 2014. iStockphoto
News from: Dr Michael Toscano, University of Bern, and Dr John Tarlton, University of Bristol.

Keel bone damage in egg-laying hens is a major animal welfare and farm productivity issue. It afflicts more than half of birds in commercial facilities according to recent published figures. Although the frequency of damage will vary with a host of factors (including housing conditions, nutrition, breed and age) keel bone damage occurs worldwide affecting billions of hens. Despite its widespread occurrence, the academic community and egg producers do not fully understand the causes of keel bone damage or how they can be eliminated.

Location of the keel bone. Image: I, Toony. Wikipedia
Location of the keel bone. Image: I, Toony. Wikipedia

In pursuit of identifying solutions for this problem, the first International Keel Bone Damage Workshop was held April 7-9, 2014 at the Research Center for Proper Housing of Poultry and Rabbits, a University of Bern research facility based at the Aviforum in Zollikofen, Switzerland. The workshop was partly funded through a BBSRC International Partnering Award and brought together over 33 leading researchers and representatives of welfare charities and industry from three continents, 10 countries, and 20 institutions to foster collaborative research and resolve key issues which impede progress in resolving bone damage in hens.

Workshop attendees participated in several sessions that were designed to bring together a broad array of disciplines and expertise to address the problem of keel breakage. Areas of knowledge represented at the workshop included: biomechanics of avian flight, bone structure and biology of the laying hen, behavioural assessment, and genetics. Organisers of the workshop specifically sought a diversity of backgrounds to foster a cross-disciplinary approach to inspire novel solutions.

With the conclusion of the meeting, several key outputs where proposed that will be produced within the next three months including:

In addition to BBSRC's funding, the workshop was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Swiss Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office, and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW).

ENDS