13/03/2013

Bristol to attempt to reduce bone fracture in laying hens

A three-year project, funded by a £532,000 grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, will study the systems of egg producer Noble Foods to identify solutions.

A new three-year study that aims to reduce fracture rates in laying hens has been announced by the University of Bristol.

It is thought that an increase in systems such as free range, resulting from a ban on battery cages, is resulting in more collisions between birds, increasing bone fractures.Funded by a £532,000 grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and supported by egg and egg-based product producer Noble Foods, the study is to be carried out by John Tarlton and Michael Toscano from the university's vet school. Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova from the university's engineering mathematics department will also be helping out.

According to Bristol, the introduction of the ban on battery cage systems – which came into force in 2012 – means alternative systems, such as free range, are resulting in more collisions between birds and therefore more fractures. This means, says the university, that a possible 24 million hens are at risk of suffering bone breakage each year, something both industry and Government recognise as "unsustainable".

The study is to combine statistical and computer modelling techniques with biomechanical and biochemical analysis and will be carried out on Noble Foods' varied housing systems.

Dr Tarlton, principle investigator on the grant, said it would be analysis of the birds' kinetic energy profiles which would allow the team to assess the keel bone fracture risk of commercial housing systems.

He said:  "From this we can identify key elements of housing or bird physiology that can be modified by producers to substantially reduce fracture rates. If successful, this study will greatly improve the health and welfare of laying hens, enhance consumer attitudes to egg production, and promote the sustainability of the UK egg industry.”

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