Bird welfare makes good business sense By Sara Reichelt, Director of Welfare for Aviagen North America


Animal welfare has always been a key focus for the poultry industry across North America. Poultry breeders and their colleagues in the poultry value chain are truly dedicated to creating a culture of welfare across the industry. Multiple welfare centric labels and audit programs are intended to show consumers that chicken producers are meeting rising expectations for animal welfare, sustainability, and food quality. To further enhance transparency, the National Chicken Council (NCC) introduced a Chicken Check-in website, offering a consumer-friendly look at chicken production the US. The NCC also provides an animal welfare audit that is consistently reviewed by welfare leaders within the industry. This audit ensures consistency of welfare throughout the industry, helping us all hold to elevated standards.

Welfare – a historic concept

Passion for the well-being of animals is nothing new. The first known animal welfare laws in North America were the “Tirranny or Crueltie” against domestic animals. These were included in the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties. Centuries later in 1828, New York passed the first state law against animal cruelty.

Apart from civil laws, farmers have always cared about their animals. They did their best to make sure animals were healthy, well-nourished, and received timely and effective veterinary care. On top of ethical reasons, they understood that profits improved with healthy animals.

Today, we continue to build our understanding of welfare. We recognize that treating our birds well is not only the right thing to do, but it is also good for the businesses of poultry breeders and producers throughout North America.

Welfare – Protecting holistic needs

While welfare has different meanings across different cultures and regions, overall, it can be summarized as ensuring that all needs of an animal are met, including nutritious food, clean water, protective shelter and comfortable environment. It calls for protecting health; preventing pain, illness, injury and distress; assuring comfort; and allowing expression of natural behavior.

Caring for birds at every step

Poultry breeding programs are driven by rigorous genetic selection. The selection process leverages novel technologies to protect the health and welfare of high-generation birds. Many of these advancements were innovatively adapted from the field of human medicine. For example, using non-invasive technology such as CT scanning and X-ray can significantly improve bird health. Another example — pulse oximeters can be used to measure the oxygen saturation levels in blood as a way to assess cardiovascular function. Good cardiovascular function affects the overall blood and oxygen flow, which is essential to overall health and growth. These innovative methods heighten the ability of selection for welfare traits, resulting in stronger birds that perform well for North American producers.

Beyond genetic selection, birds are given the best care by people who are thoroughly trained in their management and who have a passion for their well-being. These dedicated professionals practice the three essentials of stockmanship, which include skills to ensure welfare, as well as empathy for the birds. Smart farming techniques, such as modern sensors and monitoring systems, further assist in this mission. Regular veterinary care and routine welfare audits are also effective in strengthening bird welfare.

How does welfare impact the bottom line of poultry businesses?

There are many strong business cases for North American breeders and producers to look after animal welfare. For example, public welfare perception can influence consumer buying.

Healthy animals are more biologically efficient, so they excel in production qualities at both the breeder and broiler levels. Young chicks that start strong with an optimal body weight and fitness perform better, which is simply good business. Additionally, the world’s poultry growers operate in a spectrum of conditions, and well-cared-for animals are more resilient to adapt and thrive in the world’s diverse climates and production systems.

Balanced breeding – The answer to good welfare and good business

To position North American poultry producers to successfully feed growing communities, while sustaining strong businesses, breeding objectives must be accomplished in a balanced way. Bird performance is promoted along with overall health, welfare and resistance to disease. Balanced breeding creates a ripple of benefits for the producers and the birds in their care, while strengthening the ability to feed North American families with a safe, affordable, nutritious and sustainable food source.

Sara Reichelt