Male layer chick welfare progresses in dietary research

A feeding strategy for male layer chicks was developed to help birds reach an acceptable slaughter weight for meat production.

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Cute baby chick looking at a euro note
Cute baby chick looking at a euro note
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A feeding strategy for male layer chicks was developed to help birds reach an acceptable slaughter weight for meat production. However, the strategy’s cost could be problematic for producers.

Over the 98-day research study, birds fed a standard layer diet (group one) consumed over 0.6 kg more per bird compared to birds fed a higher energy diet (group two) and birds fed a diet containing 10% more digestible amino acid contents (dAA) compared to the second formula (group three).

The final average weight of the birds in group one was 1.426 kg, group three was 1.436 kg and group two was 1.379 kg. Group one’s higher feed intake led to a feed conversion ratio (FCR) of 4.17. FCR for groups two and group three were 3.86 and 3.73, respectively. 

For comparison, data from the National Chicken Council states that the average broiler FCR is 1.79, market weight is 2.93 kg and market age is 47 days. Meat yield was not evaluated in this study. 

The financial aspect of the study was evaluated by subtracting the feed costs from the grower’s compensation while assuming standard housing costs for broiler chickens. Financial results for groups one and two were similar. The profit margin was lower for group three due to its higher feed price, even though group three consumed the least amount of feed. 

It is important to note that grower's pay per pound needs to double in this scenario due to the number of days to reach an acceptable weight. Additionally, feed costs in this study are higher compared to a standard broiler feeding program due to the added amino acids and energy content.

The diet strategy could offer an alternative to culling male chicks, however, current market conditions make its widespread adoption difficult.

More about the study

The layer industry culls approximately 6-7 billion male layer chicks each year, creating an animal welfare concern.

To address this issue, the use of various energy levels in feed to rear male chicks into meat producing birds was examined by research organization Schothorst Feed Research (SFR). The goal of the study was to identify the most cost-efficient formula to grow male layer chicks without compromising animal welfare.

The research involved 4,860 Dekalb White male layer chicks. The birds were grown over 98 days to an average weight of 1.414 kg (3.12 lb.) Three feed formulas containing different energy and dAA were used.

Table1All feed was given as crumble with wheat, corn, oat hull, rapeseed flour, soybean flour and sunflower flour.

A standard broiler chicken housing management style was used. However, male layers are often more active than broilers, which resulted in increased dust in the houses. Additionally, SFR found that the male layer chicks were more sensitive to stress compared to broilers, meaning loud noises or other disturbances could cause additional issues.

A standard broiler lighting program was used in the study. However, SFR found that light intensity should be kept lower due to the aggressive tendencies of male layer chicks.

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