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: 25 May 2023
Author(s): Peta Taylor, Joanne Edgar, Paul McDonald, Cheryl McCarthy, Jean-Loup Rault
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Mother hens teach chicks important life skills that lead to lifelong benefits for the chicks. However, providing chicks with mother hens in industry is impractical and a biosecurity risk. Artificial components of maternal care may provide some benefits to chicks. Playback vocalisations are a promising method to provide part of the maternal environment to chicks, due to the low cost of installing and maintaining technology, and the multifunctionality of speaker systems enabling various calls to be emitted for different contexts and desired outcomes.
Recordings of mother hen vocalisations have shown to improve growth of meat chickens. However, opportunities to use vocalisations in commercial settings to improve bird welfare, reduce management inputs and improve productivity are unknown. This project, comprised of five experiments, aimed to provide recommendations for the on-farm use of maternal call playbacks to improve chick welfare.
The research identified variation in the frequency of feed, cluck and roost calls between mother hens, discovered novel information regarding the elusive roost call, and provided high-quality recordings of a variety of vocalisations that could be utilised to modify chicken behaviour. The researchers found evidence that feed calls have stress-alleviating effects – a finding that warrants further investigation – and that playing vocalisations on commercial farms is practical and feasible.
The findings suggest vocalisations may be a useful industry tool to safeguard bird welfare, but this requires further investigation, particularly on commercial farms. This project paves the way for future investigations into chicken welfare and the use of vocalisations.