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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SAFEGUARDING WELL-BEING OF FOOD PRODUCING ANIMALS

Location: Livestock Behavior Research

Title: A Comparison of the Long Term Effects of Infrared Beak Treatment and Hot Blade Beak Trimming in Laying Hens

Authors
item Dennis, Rachel
item Cheng, Heng Wei

Submitted to: International Journal of Poultry Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: July 20, 2010
Publication Date: August 17, 2010
Citation: Dennis, R.L., Cheng, H. 2010. A Comparison of the Long Term Effects of Infrared Beak Treatment and Hot Blade Beak Trimming in Laying Hens. International Journal of Poultry Science. 9:716-719.

Interpretive Summary: Beak trimming is a common practice in the poultry industry. The purpose of beak trimming is to reduce the amount of feather and skin damage to birds from social and aggressive pecking. In untrimmed birds feather and skin damage can ultimately lead to cannibalism, which is greatly reduced in beak trimmed birds. The most common method of beak trimming in laying hens currently is hot blade (HB) trimming, a procedure that utilizes a heated guillotine style blade that cuts and cauterizes the beak tissue simultaneously. Recently, an alternative method of beak trimming has been introduced, known as Infrared (IR) beak treatment. This procedure uses an IR laser, similar to those used in biomedical procedures. A short burst from the laser is focused on the beak tip which will erode away over the course of two weeks post-treatment. In this study we followed 60 production hens from 5 to 35 weeks of age. Half of these birds were beak trimmed using HB and the other half with IR. Our results suggest that IR beak treatment may provide a more welfare friendly means of beak trimming, allowing birds to display more efficient feeding behavior with less morphological abnormalities of the beak stumps. The data from the present study can be used by farmers in management practices and other scientists when planning and conducting their studies.

Technical Abstract: The poultry industry is under intense pressure from the public and animal welfare advocates to eliminate the practice of beak trimming due to the potential for acute and chronic pain in the trimmed birds. However, elimination of beak trimming may have severe implications for animal welfare, as pecking between untrimmed birds will result in body damage that can lead to cannibalism. Infrared (IR) beak treatment may provide an alternative solution to the conventional hot blade (HB) procedure, with the potential for being a more welfare friendly means of reducing injuries from pecking. In the present study, we followed a flock of laying hens from 5 to 35 weeks of age, in which a portion was beak trimmed with the IR method and the remaining birds with conventional HB. Sixty birds were randomly used in the study (n=30/treatment). Results showed that IR birds had significantly longer upper and lower beaks throughout the 30 week period (P<0.05). The frequency of beaks in which the lower beak was longer than the upper was greater in HB trimmed birds, and scar tissue was only evident on one bird trimmed by HB and no birds from IR. Behavior analysis showed that IR birds spent less time feeding compared with HB birds (P<0.05), however, these birds were consistently heavier than their HB counterparts (P<0.05), suggesting that IR beak treatment may allow for more efficient feeding behavior. The data may suggest that IR beak treatment presents a more welfare friendly alternative to traditional HB beak trimming.

Last Modified: 9/1/2014