Introduction to Poultry Welfare

Joy A. Mench
Department of Animal Science
University of California
Davis, California 95616-8532
Paul B. Siegel
Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0306

Introduction to Poultry Welfare

The focus of the commercial poultry industry is the production of meat and eggs under intensive husbandry. The egg component includes production of white and brown eggs that are either marketed in the shell, bulk processed, or sold as value-added products. Current production consists of approximately 245 million layers, of which about 98 percent are maintained in cages.

The meat component of the poultry industry consists primarily of chickens and turkeys, although there is also a relatively small amount of waterfowl and gamebird production. Turkey production, which has largely moved from range rearing to total confinement rearing on litter floors, has grown rapidly from 185 million birds in 1985 to about 300 million today. Unlike chicken production, where reproduction is by natural mating, essentially all breeder turkeys are maintained in sex-separate flocks and reproduction is via artificial insemination.

During the past half century, chicken meat production has changed from being a byproduct of the egg industry to an industry in its own right, with annual production of more than 7 billion broilers and roasters. Nearly all broilers and roasters are reared in confinement on litter floors, while breeders are confined in 1/3 litter and 2/3 slat houses. The feed intake of breeders is carefully regulated in order to maintain targeted weights and prevent obesity.

The poultry industry is the largest (in terms of animal numbers) and the most highly automated, vertically integrated, and intensified of the animal production industries. As a consequence, there has been a great deal of public concern about the poultry welfare. This concern, in turn, has stimulated a substantial scientific research effort, particularly in Europe.

Several of the more significant concerns pertaining to poultry welfare are discussed in the sections that follow. It should be kept in mind that many factors must be considered when evaluating the welfare implications of a particular management procedure, including the health, productivity, physiology, and behavior of the animal.

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