State-of-the-art poultry research center opens in UK

A new poultry research center at the U.K.’s Bristol University offers industry-focused studies into layer and broiler health, welfare and productivity.

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The research center has eight identical rearing/laying rooms with industry-standard fixtures but state-of-the-art monitoring equipment. | Bristol Veterinary School
The research center has eight identical rearing/laying rooms with industry-standard fixtures but state-of-the-art monitoring equipment. | Bristol Veterinary School

A new state-of-the-art poultry facility offering industry-focused research into layer and broiler health, welfare, behavior and productivity opened at the U.K.’s University of Bristol Veterinary School at the end of January.

The new facility, which has received an investment of GBP1 million (US$1.4 million) should help to bridge the gap between commercial systems and small-scale experimental units by combining industry-standard housing with monitoring at flock and individual bird levels.

Areas likely to be examined at the center will include housing design, injurious pecking, red mite, rearing systems, bone biology and welfare assessment, with the aim of optimizing quality and performance through improved health and welfare.

State-of-the-art

The Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) poultry facility has eight identical rearing/laying rooms outfitted with standard fixtures that are compliant with industry guidelines and that can be adapted for particular studies in broilers and layers.

Each room can accommodate 200 broilers or 120 laying hens and allows the maximum monitoring of the birds and their environment, including individual room temperatures, ventilation, lighting, and monitoring of CO2 and ammonia. Water supply is metered. Control and monitoring can be carried out remotely, either from a dedicated control room, or via remote links.

Individual bird monitoring technology includes accelerometry, heart monitors and thermography.

The center is in the process of acquiring a fully programmable multi-view video system capable of recording at low light in infrared, with pan tilt and zoom pre-sets, and this will permit remote analysis of detailed individual bird and flock behavior. The system will be capable of supporting tracking systems and will include synchronized audio monitoring for analysis of bird vocalizations.

Additionally, the facility will install versatile “plug-and-play” radio frequency identification (RFID) to assess individual bird access to areas and services within each room, automatically assessing use of nest boxes, ramps and feeding stations, for example. The eight rooms will be fitted with seven antennae, with 50 transponders per room.

Automatic feeding systems for timed delivery and precise quantitation of feed for feed conversion and performance trials with minimal risk of flock disturbance associated with manual feeding will be introduced, as will an automatic weighing system for poultry and precise measures of weight gain and feed conversion again with minimal risk of flock disturbance.

In addition to the rearing areas, there are two separately regulated hatching rooms, filled with incubators enabling total environmental control.
“This capability allows us to assess individual and flock behavior, welfare and productivity at the level of precision sufficient for any industry or science-led research project in a fully controlled environment,” said Professor John Torlton of Bristol Veterinary School.

Work at the center will be mostly industry led, although academic studies will also be undertaken. The latter will reflect the range of current expertise at the university and will range from bone biology to microbiota studies.

First studies

Among the first projects being undertaken by the new center is a project to identify, with U.K. egg producer Stonegate, whether keel bone fractures in laying hens influence their behavior, “state of mind” and productivity.

The study will house birds with or without keel fractures in separate rooms, where their flock behavior will be monitored by video, their productivity by the weight, number and quality of eggs, and their “affective state” assessed by local studies on individual birds.

Other projects in the pipeline include an industry-led feed trial in broilers to reduce campylobacter infection and related gut inflammation, a study of gnotobiosis in improving broiler performance, and the use of naturally occurring polysaccharides in improving gut health in layers and broilers.

A number of dedicated staff will run the facility, but staff will also be allocated according to the needs of each research project.

Professor Richard Hammond, head of Bristol Veterinary School, said: “Bristol Veterinary School has world-class expertise and over three decades of experience working with industry to help address the challenge of livestock health and welfare and production. This facility marks a step change by providing the very best research facilities to improve poultry welfare and sustainable productivity.”

CIEL, of which the new poultry facility forms a part, brings together 12 world-class research institutes and about 40 industrial partners in the U.K. Among its aims is to make the best use of expertise across academic institutes, with each having a slightly different focus, working alongside collaborations and partnerships that its members may have which, in the case of poultry at Bristol, include collaborative work with institutions in the Americas, Asia and Europe.

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