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ARS Home » Midwest Area » West Lafayette, Indiana » Livestock Behavior Research » Research » Research Project #445376

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

Location: Livestock Behavior Research

Project Number: 5020-32000-014-008-A
Project Type: Cooperative Agreement

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

Objective:
This project will entail the design, fabrication, and assessment of a novel warm perch system as a heating device to prevent cold stress in laying hens. This 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 role Dr. Erasmus will play in this project will be to: 1) Install cameras and digital video recording equipment, 2) Monitor the behavioral system, 3) collect and analyze behavioral data, and 4) write and publish the results in scientific journals.

Approach:
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 3 treatments (Please see below). 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 20 months (80 weeks) will be initiated in December 2023 using poultry housing (Cooperator poultry farm) with standard ventilation equipment and monitored with installed cameras and digital video recording equipment. 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(n=72/treatment), and necropsy on all mortality); and well–being indicators (body temperature as well as behavioral (n=72/treatment) and endocrine responses(n=12/treatment)). Economic and environmental impacts will be assessed.