Global Animal Partnership’s Higher Welfare Chicken Initiative – Evaluating Higher Welfare Strains

Published Feb 02

In March 2016, Global Animal Partnership (GAP) announced our intention to replace 100% of fast‐growing chicken breeds with higher welfare breeds for all levels of our 5‐ Step® Rating Program by 2024.

Since that announcement, through consultation with our stakeholders, GAP identified the need for a scientifically robust, comprehensive independent study to determine and evaluate the parameters necessary for assessing animal welfare of different genetic strains. Additionally, further investigation into issues related to the impact of this transition to higher welfare genetics were also identified as necessary.

Key learnings from other programs around the world that have made similar commitments (for example, RSPCA UK and Beter Leven Keurmerk in the Netherlands) have also informed our thinking around next steps for our initiative.

In the spirit of GAP’s commitment to transparency, and multi‐stakeholder involvement, we are asking for your input on our study. Below you will find a brief outline of the objectives of the study, a few details around the protocol, and a list of the parameters we believe need to used to determine how to assess the welfare of any broiler genetic strain. We ask that you please review these parameters and let us know what you think. Are we missing anything? Is there anything on the list you don’t think we need to include?

Thanks in advance for your time and feedback. Please return feedback directly to [email protected] by February 24th, 2017. We will acknowledge receipt of all feedback received.

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Objectives of the study:

1) Determine the list of parameters necessary for assessing welfare of broiler chicken genetic strains; 2) Conduct the assessment on ~20 broiler genetic strains; and, 3) Evaluate the performance of each broiler genetic strain in the study.

Study Protocol:

We will be using the RSPCA UK’s assessment protocol as a starting point for our study, as the protocol includes key elements necessary in standardizing evaluation of various breeds (for example specifying age of the breeder flocks). Their protocol can be downloaded here: https://science.rspca.org.uk/sciencegroup/farmanimals/standards/chickens.

Key Parameters:

Below is a table summarizing the areas we’ve identified as necessary for our study. Please tells us what you think of these parameters – are we missing anything? Do you think these are all necessary? Why or why not? Please note the focus of this feedback is on the parameters, and not specifically on the protocols associated with the parameters.

Please note all of these measures are being considered from a knowledge and/or comprehensive evaluation standpoint, but may not necessarily be involved in the final welfare assessment protocol.

Area

Item

Why Measure It?















Health and Production Measures

Mortality %

Measure of immune function, management. Also key factor in an assessment of sustainability.

Cull % and reason (legs, runts, sickness, other)

Measure of overall thriftiness and uniformity

Skin lesions – scores (incidence and severity), Foot pad dermatitis, hock scores, breast blisters

While this can be a management measure, it can also be an indicator of skin integrity

Leg Health – lameness/gait scoring/walking ability

Measure of overall conformation and gait, how far apart legs are, joint angles, leg straightness and shank length- these sorts of conformation scores are useful for correlations to perching, activity, and conditions that may cause lameness

Body weight/Growth curve

To establish weights and growth curves at various set points

Feed Consumption

An important factor for production, economic, and sustainability considerations





Behavioral Measures

Ethogram (e.g. % time feeding/foraging; % time active: % time sleeping/resting; dust-bathing activity

What do the birds do in a day? How long do they spend doing various activities?

Ability to perch at various heights across ages.

Birds are motivated to perch and is a good indicator of overall ability to move.

Carcass Measures

Flock Uniformity

Not only an overall indicator of growth patterns, but uniformity is a key concern for processors

Processing yields (breast: thigh meat)

Including colour, pH

Incidence of woody breast or other abnormalities

Now a major area of concern for processors and their customers

Meat texture

Including water holding capacity, firmness

Condition of the skin (thickness, color)

Important for evaluating birds ability to range outdoors (where they may get wet feet), plucking ability on the line, and overall skin health and condition.

Fat cover and %

Do different strains lay down fat differently?






Other

Morbidity and general health

Including condemnations and/or diseases found at slaughter (pericarditis, abscesses etc.)

Litter moisture

An indicator of water consumption – the wetter the litter, the more water consumed

Feathering

Feather development, cover, ease of plucking etc.

 

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