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ARS Home » Midwest Area » West Lafayette, Indiana » Livestock Behavior Research » Research » Research Project #445408

Research Project: Thermal perches as warming devices for reducing cold stress in laying hens

Location: Livestock Behavior Research

Project Number: 5020-32000-014-009-A
Project Type: Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Jul 1, 2023
End Date: Apr 30, 2026

This project will entail the design, fabrication, and assessment of a novel warm perch system to prevent cold stress in laying hens. This overall study consists of three objectives: 1) to design, fabricate, and commission a warm perch system for caged laying hens 2) to examine if providing warm perches to laying hens subjected to cooler air temperature during winter will improve their thermal comfort and production; and 3) to examine if warm perches prevent cold stress- induced neurophysiological changes, and improve cold adaptation in caged hens. The specific objectives for this Cooperator on this project are: 1) to set up the system for all treatments (without perch, air perch, and warmed perch), 2) to monitor and maintain the system, 3) to collect and analyze the temperature data, and 4) to write articles to be published in relevant scientific journals.

Hens, 17 wk of age, will be randomly assigned to 3 treatments: 1) cages with water warmed galvanized steel circular perches (400 mL/min flow rate warmed to 30 oC), 2) cages with ambient air-equilibrated galvanized steel circular perches, and 3) conventional cages without perches. The trial lasting 18 months (72 weeks) will be initiated in December 2023 using poultry housing of another cooperator equipped with standard ventilation equipment. This collaborator will work at a different cooperator's poultry farm. The study will be conducted from day 1 to week 80 through two winters, 2023-2024 and 2024-2025. Birds (N = 226) will be randomly assigned to three treatments. Data will be collected at weeks 30 and 40 (acute cold episode) and weeks 70 and 80 (chronic cold episode) during the first and second winters, respectively. To simulate a production environment, water warming will only be used during winter cold weather (10 ºC) when hens peak in egg production (30 – 40 weeks of age) and aged (70-80 weeks of age). All hens will be evaluated for physical condition (skeletal and foot health and feather quality); biological phenomena (body weight, egg production, egg weight, shell quality, feed efficiency, and necropsy on all mortality); and well–being indicators (body temperature as well as behavioral and endocrine responses). Economic and environmental impacts will be assessed.