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Happier, healthier, more productive hens on omega-3?
Date:7/13/2009

Most of us are aware of the potential health benefits of omega-3 found in fish oil and flax seed. Now researchers are looking at how omega-3 may help laying hens avoid bone damage.

A grant of 1.7 million has been awarded to Dr John Tarlton of the University of Bristol's Matrix Biology Research Group in the School of Clinical Veterinary Sciences by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and industrial partner, Noble Foods, the UK's leading egg production company. The three-year research project will investigate the benefits of omega-3 supplemented diets in laying hens.

Eighteen million laying hens in the UK will need to be "re-housed" within the next four years as a result of a EU ruling banning conventional cage systems. Because of greater rates of bone breakage in free-range systems this represents a serious welfare issue for the poultry and egg production industry.

Concern about the welfare of laying hens housed in non-cage systems was expressed in the 1990s, when the issue of broken bones within flocks was reported. Latest evidence suggests this is getting worse, with many birds from barn and free range flocks having sustained breaks or fractures by the end of their lifetime.

Fractures of the sternum (keel) are common, causing pain, preventing important behaviours and leading to an increase in infection rate. Chickens possess sensitive pain perception mechanisms and can suffer from chronic pain.

Constraints on movement due to fractures may last for many weeks, resulting in restricted access to food, water, and perches, compromising the welfare benefits of free-range systems.

The research group has identified a high incidence of broken bones in hens housed in free-range systems. However, preliminary studies suggest that by providing a diet supplemented with omega-3, found in fish and flax seed oils, breakages could be substantially reduced.

Dr Tarlton said:
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Contact: Joanne Fryer
joanne.fryer@bristol.ac.uk
44-117-331-7276
University of Bristol
Source:Eurekalert

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