The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit established in the 2014 Farm Bill with bipartisan congressional support, awarded three grants totaling $1.4 million to Purdue University, University of California, Davis (UC Davis) and University of Edinburgh, respectively, to improve the health and productivity of egg-laying hens.
The three grant awards are the result of a competitive call for innovative proposals for research to reduce keel bone fractures in egg-laying hens. Bone fractures, which cause pain and decrease egg production, are one known challenge to raising hens in cage-free housing systems and are particularly prevalent in the keel, or breastbone.
Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates of the number of hens needed to meet existing cage-free pledges, including pledges by all top 25 U.S. grocers, this research has the potential to improve the welfare and productivity of approximately 225 million hens by 2025.
"The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is pleased to support innovative approaches to reducing bone fractures in egg-laying hens, a phenomenon that harms both productivity and hen health," said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. "Today's farmers and ranchers face new challenges arising from a changing production environment, and cutting edge research remains critical to providing producers with science-based solutions to those challenges."
The following principal investigators will lead three distinct research efforts to reduce bone fractures in egg-laying hens.
- Ian Dunn, Ph.D., a research scientist at the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, and collaborators at the major poultry genetics companies Hy-Line and Lohmann Tierzucht, will lay the groundwork for breeding hens with stronger bones by developing a novel x-ray based measurement system adapted for on-farm use.
- Darrin Karcher, Ph.D., Purdue University assistant professor and Extension specialist, along with collaborators will conduct research to determine the impact of nutritional interventions on the gut microbiome in addition to management interventions that help producers to reduce keel bone fractures in laying hens housed in cage-free systems.
- Maja Makagon, Ph.D., UC Davis assistant professor, will lead a team of collaborators from UC Davis, University of Bristol, University of Bern and Iowa State University. The team will explore the impacts of poultry housing design, particularly vertical space, on the prevalence of keel bone injuries in egg-laying hens.
These grants support the FFAR Protein Challenge, which aims to enhance and improve the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of producing diverse proteins for a growing global population.
These grants were funded by a partnership with the Open Philanthropy Project designed to improve the welfare and productivity of egg-laying hens and commercially raised pigs. The partnership, which supports producers' ability to adapt to a changing animal production landscape, is funded with a $1 million grant from Open Philanthropy matched by a $1 million investment from FFAR.