BREEDING FOR BETTER WELFARE IN BROILER CHICKENS
Recognizing that breeding for high welfare now needs to be incorporated into chicken breeding programmes alongside commercially valuable production traits, the Tubney Charitable Trust and the Farm Animal Welfare Trust (FAWT) have been funding a major project at FAI (Food Animal Initiative) at Wytham, nr Oxford over the past 3 years. FACT is now helping to take this important project to its next stage of trials with commercial farmers.
The project is now into its 4th generation of broilers and already there are birds that have impressive production traits, can walk well, range outside and are very healthy. What is even more exciting is that progress has been made on the welfare of the parent birds, known as ‘breeders’. In commercial production, breeders are usually fed very restricted rations to prevent them from becoming overweight, obese and infertile, sometimes only 25-40% of the food they would eat if they could. In the current 3rd generation of breeders at FAI, there are some birds that seem to ‘cope’ with much lower feed restriction. Despite growing large, they are healthy, fertile and walk well. The very existence of these birds suggests that the project’s aim of breeder birds that have commercially valuable offspring but do not need feed restriction themselves is several steps nearer.