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ARS Home » Midwest Area » West Lafayette, Indiana » Livestock Behavior Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #268721

Title: Effects of different infrared beak treatment protocols on chicken welfare and physiology

item Dennis, Rachel
item Cheng, Heng Wei

Submitted to: Poultry Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/25/2012
Publication Date: 7/1/2012
Citation: Dennis, R.L., Cheng, H. 2012. Effects of different infrared beak treatment protocols on chicken welfare and physiology. Poultry Science. 91:1499-1505.

Interpretive Summary: Beak trimming is a common practice in the egg laying industry. By removing the beak tip producers can 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 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; this small amount of beak tissue will slowly soften and erode away over the course of two weeks. However, the intensity of the energy and the beak area exposed can be altered by altering the energy setting and the guard plate size. In this study we followed 140 production hens from 5 to 30 weeks of age. Twenty of these birds were trimmed with HB, while the remaining birds were trimmed with one of six different IR protocols (using different energy and guard plate setting). Our results suggest that IR beak trimming protocols can be altered to improve both production and bird well-being, allowing birds to display more natural behavior, including feeding behaviors while wasting less feed.

Technical Abstract: Beak trimming in laying hens has been a concern for both the welfare and quality of the birds. However, without beak trimming the concerns of mortality and cannibalism due to pecking with untrimmed beaks is an even greater concern to the health of birds. Infrared beak trimming provides an alternative to the conventional means of trimming, hot blade beak trimming, purporting to provide a more welfare friendly means of reducing the damage potential of the beak. The infrared system can be adjusted to use multiple plate and power settings. In the present study we have investigated two different plate sizes (27/23C and 25/23C) with each of three different power settings: high (52), moderate (48) and low (44). These birds, along with some conventionally (HB; hot blade) trimmed birds were maintained in an industry egg laying facility in Indiana. Physiological and behavioral measures were taken at 5, 10, 20 and 30 weeks of age. Although all birds followed a similar growth curve, IR birds using 27/23C(48) protocol were the heaviest at 10, 20 and 30 weeks of age. Alternately, birds using the 25/23C(44) protocol were the lightest at 20 and 30 weeks of age. Upper and lower beak growth curves were also established showing birds trimmed with 25/23C protocols to have a shorter upper and lower beak compared with 27/23C protocols or hot blade. Birds trimmed using 27/23(44) and (48) had consistently longer upper and lower mandibles. However, amount of feed wasted was greatest in HB and 27/23C birds and tended to be reduced in 27/23(48) and 25/23(48) and (52) birds (P<0.10). Behavior analysis revealed that compared to HB trimmed birds, birds using 27/23C protocols walked and drank more. Feather scores (FS) taken at 20 and 30 weeks showed higher breast FS in HB and 25/23C(44) birds compared to 27/23C birds. Back FS was increased in 25/23C(48) birds compared to HB and most other protocols used. At 5 and 10 weeks of age a “test” feather was attached to the cage and pecking behavior and damage score (DS) of the feather following 2 hrs was determined. Birds from 27/23C(44) and (48) protocols pecked significantly more at the feather than HB and other protocols. However, HB and 25/23C birds had the highest DS. The results from the study suggest that IR protocols can be optimized for superior productivity as well as animal well-being.