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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Morphopathological Changes and Pain in Beak Trimmed Laying Hens

Author
item Cheng, Heng Wei

Submitted to: World's Poultry Science Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 30, 2005
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Beak trimming is a routine practice in the poultry industry to reduce the incidence of feather pecking, aggression, and cannibalism in egg layers. However, beak trimming may cause pain in beak trimmed chickens, which is genetic-, lesion-, and age-dependent. Based on the updated information, the author would like to indicate that 1) with some genetic flocks of laying hens, if beak trimming is needed to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism, it should be conducted at hatchery or younger than 10 days of age; 2) however, the most desirable approach is to eliminate beak trimming through a genetic selection of birds with less cannibalistic and aggressive tendencies, and 3) another obvious solution is to develop an alternative means of trimming that has fewer painful implications and safeguards welfare before non-cannibalistic stocks are commercially available.

Technical Abstract: Beak trimming is routinely practiced in the poultry industry to reduce the incidence of feather pecking, aggression, and cannibalism in egg layers. Feather pecking is painful to birds and potentially induces cannibalism. Cannibalism happens in all current housing environments, cage- and free-production systems, and is one of the major causes of bird death in commercial laying hens without beak trimming. However, beak trimming has solicited a great deal of debate concerning the relative advantage and disadvantage of the practice and its impact on welfare. A bird’s beak is a complex functional organ with an extensive nerve supply and various sensory receptors. Beak trimming may cause pain (acute, chronic, or both) in trimmed birds due to tissue damage and nerve injury. The complexity and plasticity of the nervous system and the animal’s inability to communicate verbally make pain difficult to measure directly. However, pain in animals can be recognized and assessed using physiological and behavioral parameters in response to noxious events. When evaluating whether an animal is experiencing pain, a distinction should be made between what an animal may feel and what a human observing the animal may feel. It should be noted that beak trimming-induced pain in birds is genetic-, lesion-, and age-dependent.

Last Modified: 8/22/2014
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