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ISU to lead alternative hen-housing study

By Staff | May 18, 2011

AMES – 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.

The two-year, $700,000 research project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program.

“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 caretakers, optimum hen production performance, safe and high quality eggs, environmental soundness, efficient use of natural resources and economic viability for both producers and consumers,” said Hongwei Xin, director of the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University and 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 state in U.S. egg production, and California, where voters recently passed a ballot initiative to essentially ban cage egg operation by 2015.

Co-investigators at Iowa State include Byron Brehm-Stecher of the food science and human nutrition department, Maro Ibarburu of the Egg Industry Center, Lie Tang of the agricultural and biosystems engineering department, Suzanne Millman and Darrell Trampel of the veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine department.

Laboratory-scale experiments involving different space allowances to group-housed hens will be conducted at Iowa State. 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 said.

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 said 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.

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