AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program RD&E Snapshot
As we head into a new research, development and extension (RD&E) period for the Australian chicken meat industry (2022–2027), it is timely to reflect on...
Published: 29 Jun 2023
Author(s): Peta Taylor, Jean-Loup Rault, Carolyn De Koning, Dr Cheryl McCarthy
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Currently, 18-20% of chicken meat produced in Australia comes from accredited free-range farms. Increased production of free-range chicken meat has largely been driven by consumer demand and the perception that free-range chicken meat is a welfare-friendly product. However, meat chicken ranging behaviour is highly variable and not all birds in a flock will access the outdoor range when provided with the opportunity. Reports of low range use in commercial flocks may concern consumers. Sustainability of the free-range chicken meat industry depends on optimised range use by birds in a way that promotes good welfare.
This project altered rearing and range environments to determine the optimal conditions to promote ranging behaviour. Visual access during rearing increased ranging behaviour in controlled and commercial conditions, and surpassed the effect of preferred range environments. Additionally, the research team validated a machine vision learning technology to quantify range use, showing it to be reliable under various environmental conditions. Therefore, the research provides a successful method to optimise and quantify range use by meat chickens on commercial farms.