Iowa State University researchers will join with University of California-Davis scientists to investigate alternative egg production systems to help improve animal welfare and other practices. Project leaders say the study will assess alternative housing systems for laying hens in Iowa, the leading state in U.S. egg production, and in California, where a state law known as Proposition 2 essentially bans cage egg production by 2015.
Among the factors to be considered are animal welfare, optimum hen production performance, safe and high quality eggs, the environment, and economic viability for both producers and consumers. The two-year research project is funded by a $700,000 grant from USDA, through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program.
Study to look at systems to help improve animal welfare practices
"Our ultimate goal is to identify and promote housing systems and management practices that will lead to improved animal welfare, an environment conducive to the health of the hens and the caretakers, optimum hen production performance, safe and high quality eggs, environmental soundness, efficient use of natural resources and economic viability for both egg producers and consumers," says Hongwei Xin, director of the Egg Industry Center at ISU. He is a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and animal science.
The multistate and multidisciplinary study will assess alternative housing systems for laying hens in Iowa, the leading egg producing state. California is involved because it is the state where voters recently passed a ballot initiative to essentially ban cage egg operations by 2015.
Co-investigators at ISU include Byron Brehm-Stecher of the food science and human nutrition department, Maro Ibarburu of the Egg Industry Center, Lie Tang of ag and biosystems engineering, and Suzanne Millman and Darrell Trampel of the veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine department.
Study involves lab-scale tests and commercial "cage free" operations
Laboratory-scale experiments involving different space allowances to group-housed hens will be conducted at ISU. Laying hens' feeding and non-feeding behaviors will be monitored automatically to better understand "space allowance interactions" and aid in designing housing for the chickens, Xin says.
Commercial aviary, also called "cage-free" production systems, in California and Iowa will be monitored for at least one year to cover the effects of production cycles and seasons in each region.
Xin says the study will yield research-based, commercial production data that will help guide the egg industry in their selection and management of welfare-friendly and sustainable egg production systems.