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Precision poultry management: combined approaches for enhancing layers health and welfare in the context of sustainable high egg production

2021 CPRF
Significant improvements in genetic selection over the past fifty years have resulted in commercial laying hens that achieve early sexual maturity, long-lasting peak egg production and extended egg-laying persistency. However, these high levels of production have come at a cost. Greater egg production increases internal demands for nutrients, especially calcium for which deficiency can result in a weakened skeleton rendering it prone to osteoporosis with greater risks for bone fractures. Both within Canada and world-wide, consumers increasingly demand poultry products that confer “higher animal welfare” and that are perceived to be safer and healthier for people. In this context, management of laying hens has shifted to promote non-cage housing systems that are known to improve musculoskeletal development through exercise. However, these systems also increase risks of collisions, leading to fractures and higher mortality. Thus, solutions are needed to reconcile the disconnect between the requirement for high egg production and the drive to promote animal welfare through an enriched and enhanced environment. In other words, for a profitable and sustainable egg industry, the contemporary barriers to increased productivity associated with bird health, nutrition and welfare need to be actively addressed and removed through research. In cognizant of the multi-factorial nature of pullets and hens’ health, we engaged in a multi-disciplinary research approach involving aspects of physiology of reproduction (Dr. Bedecarrats), nutrition (Dr. Kiarie) and welfare and behavior (Dr. Harlander & Dr. Widowski) with the overall objective of investigating the effects of genetic background, nutrition, and housing environments on the development of commercial layer pullets leading to sexual maturity. So far, this research approach has generated a trove of foundational data that will allow for the adjustment of the nutrition and management practices of layer pullets leading to optimized skeletal development and enhance hen productivity, livability, and welfare.
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Principal Investigator

University of Guelph

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