Environmental and management factors affecting the welfare of chickens on commercial farms in the United Kingdom and Denmark stocked at five densities.
Jones TA., Donnelly CA., Stamp Dawkins M.
Data from a large commercial-scale experiment in which 10 major broiler producer companies stocked whole houses of birds at 30, 34, 38, 42, and 46 kg/m2 were analyzed to identify 1) temperature and humidity profiles achieved throughout the growth cycle, 2) management practices and equipment that contributed to observed variation in environmental conditions, and 3) the extent to which environmental variables affected bird welfare. The study involved a total of 2.7 million birds in 114 houses on commercial farms with measurement of a wide range of environmental and bird variables. Much of the variation in broiler health and welfare was associated with the percentage of time a company could maintain house temperature and RH within limits recommended by the breeder company. RH in the first week of life was particularly important to later health, suggesting that better control of humidity might lead to improved welfare. Key management factors affecting bird welfare were those relating to good ventilation and air control such as the type of ventilation, type of drinker, numbers of stockmen, and litter type. Controlling the environment, particularly temperature, humidity, and air and litter quality, is crucial to broiler chicken welfare. This does not mean that stocking density is unimportant, but lowering stocking density on its own, without regard to the environment the birds experience, is not sufficient. Genuine improvements in bird welfare will come from setting standards that combine stocking density, safeguards on the environment, and the genetic makeup of the birds.