A novel environmental enrichment laser device stimulated broiler chicken active behavior and improved performance without sacrificing welfare outcomes

Meyer, Meaghan
Major Professor
Elizabeth Bobeck
Committee Member
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Animal Science
Organizational Unit
Journal Issue
Animal Science

The modern commercial broiler chicken is a genetic hybrid selected for fast growth, feed efficiency, and a large proportion of breast muscle tissue. As birds reach market weight within a typical 6- week commercial cycle, they are increasingly inactive and prone to leg disorders and contact dermatitis of the feet and breasts. Environmental enrichment can be used to increase activity and natural behavior in captive animals. The goal of this thesis was to incorporate environmental enrichment to stimulate broilers to voluntarily move and feed, whilst maintaining leg health and performance. The environmental enrichment was a novel device that projected red, randomly moving laser dots onto the pen floor to promote natural foraging and predatory behavior. A secondary goal was to validate broiler welfare measures recommended by the National Chicken Council (NCC) to understand and improve broiler welfare auditing. The three experimental objectives to meet these goals were to: 1) validate and modify measures of broiler welfare to determine the effects of enrichment and make recommendations to broiler producers and researchers; 2) measure the impact of enrichment on broiler production, leg health, and environmental parameters; and 3) study the effects of enrichment on broiler behavior and walking distance within the home pen.

Results showed that broilers in laser-enriched pens had greater feed intake and weight gain in each performance period and overall, increased average daily gain in the starter and finisher periods and overall, and improved feed conversion in the grower and finisher periods, as well as throughout the 6-week trial. Active behaviors (% of birds’ time) and distance walked (in centimeters) were increased, and inactive behaviors (% of birds’ time) were reduced in laser-enriched birds. Time spent at feeder was increased in laser-enriched broilers. Gait score was not negatively affected by treatment. The condition of laser-enriched birds’ footpads, breasts, and tibia was not diminished, nor was the air or litter quality in the enriched room of the barn.

In conclusion, this novel environmental enrichment device was successful in stimulating broilers to voluntarily move and feed within the home pen, leading to improved performance outcomes without negatively impacting bird welfare, utilizing the measures collected in this study. This environmental enrichment option never comes into physical contact with the broilers, hence could be used over multiple flocks. This vision-oriented form of environmental enrichment is a promising option for commercial broiler producers that does not require alterations to management or increased human labor.