Video projection of outdoor scenes reduced stress and increased resilience to APEC, blood and tissue analysis reveals.
According to a pilot study published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers of Science, exposure to videos simulating a free-range environment improved the health and well-being of laying hens.
“Developed by an interdisciplinary team with expertise in microbiology, animal behavior, neurobiology and virtual reality technology, this technology has the potential to address the challenges of the modern livestock industry in a new way and address a range of issues facing the industry, including animal welfare. infectious diseases and low productivity,” explained Melha Mellata, Associate Professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University.
In recent years, retailers and consumers have championed the use of free-range and pasture-raised poultry products, but current business practices and economics, as well as concerns about predators and weather, make the transition difficult.
Reducing stress in laying hens
The researchers examined the effects of virtual reality on a group of 34 hens that were 15 weeks old. This period—when commercial layers are typically moved from chickens to egg-laying facilities—is considered a high-risk stress period.
For five days, video projections played scenes from indoor facilities with access to outdoor scratching posts and unfenced prairies, as well as groups of free-range chickens engaging in positive behaviors such as grooming, roosting, dusting and nesting.
“Different expertise in my team helped develop unique videos that show free-range environments and birds with positive behaviors to teach indoor birds behaviors that are likely to reduce aggression, such as plucking, which leads to injury and then infections. ” she added.
Hens that received the treatment showed lower stress markers and increased resistance to avian pathogenic E. coli (APEC), blood and tissue analysis revealed.
In the future, the researchers hope to continue studying the effects of virtual reality on the health and welfare of poultry over a longer period of time.
“I hope that this technology will be applied to industrial poultry farms. It can solve a number of problems the industry now faces, including improving animal welfare and health in general. Workers will also benefit from an attractive new environment and put the US at the forefront of industrial innovation,” Mellata said.