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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Infared beak treatment method compared with conventional hot blade amputation in laying hens

Authors
item Dennis, R - PURDUE UNIVERSITY
item Fahey, A - PURDUE UNIVERSITY
item Cheng, Heng Wei

Submitted to: Poultry Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: August 24, 2008
Publication Date: January 6, 2009
Citation: Dennis, R.L., Fahey, A.G., Cheng, H. 2009. Infared beak treatment method compared with conventional hot blade amputation in laying hens. Poultry Science. 88:38-43.

Interpretive Summary: In production laying hen facilities, conventional beak trimming (also known as beak amputation) is most commonly performed using the hot blade method. A hot blade is used to cut and cauterize the upper and lower beak. This process is used to reduce cannibalism and damage from aggression and feather pecking. However, recent heightened concerns for animal well-being have led to extreme political and social controversy over the use of conventional beak trimming. Advances in infrared laser technologies have provided an alternative method of beak treatment designed to be less painful and more precise than conventional methods. In this study, birds were treated with either conventional hot blade beak trimming at 7-10 days of age or infrared beak treatment on day 1. Production, physiology and behavior were then analyzed in a production setting at 30 weeks of age. Adult beak length was found to be longer in infrared treated birds compared to those that were treated with hot blade trimming. Production was not altered by beak treatment, as measured by egg and body weight. Birds also exhibited no difference in additional stress physiology measured in the study, such as fluctuating asymmetry and heterophil and lymphocyte profiles. However, infrared treated birds showed superior feather condition and reduced aggressiveness under high light intensity. Our findings suggest that infrared treatment may provide a more welfare friendly alternative to conventional hot blade trimming, providing a less painful beak treatment that may reduce aggression and damage from pecking even further.

Technical Abstract: Infrared lasers have been widely used for noninvasive surgical applications in human medicine and their results are reliable, predictable and reproducible. Infrared lasers have recently been designed with the expressed purpose of providing a less painful, more precise beak trimming method compared with conventional beak trimming. This study was designed to examine the potential of the infrared (IR) beak treatment to provide a welfare friendly alternative to the conventional hot blade (HB) method in chickens. The birds were beak trimmed by IR at the hatchery or HB at 7 to 10 days of age in a commercial production setting, in accordance with standard procedure. The beak morphology and associated physiological characteristics including production and aggression behavior of the birds were analyzed at 30 wks of age. There was no difference in egg production or bird body weight between the two beak trim treatments (P>0.05). Birds also exhibited no difference in stress physiology measured in the study, such as fluctuating asymmetry (P>0.05) and heterophil and lymphocyte profiles (P>0.05). However, IR birds showed superior feather condition (P<0.05) and reduced aggressiveness under high light intensity (P<0.05), even though IR birds had longer beak stumps (P<0.05). The results may indicate that IR beak treatment may reduce the damage done by aggressive and feather pecking. Indeed, IR trimming may provide a more welfare friendly alternative to conventional beak trimming without compromising productivity.

Last Modified: 12/22/2014
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