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Study to determine whether cage-based breeding can meet the needs of game birds, and if not, to identify best practice. - AW1303

Description
Each year the UK rears around 20-30 million pheasants and 3-6 million red-legged partridges for shoots, up to half of which are derived from domestic breeding stock. Despite the growing popularity of gamebird shooting, the incidence and severity of the challenges to gamebird welfare during their captivity are poorly understood. In comparison to domestic animals there has been little research investment into gamebird welfare. Of particular concern is the use of barren cages for breeding gamebirds. These share some of the characteristics of battery cage systems used for commercial egg production in poultry. The Farm Animal Welfare Council and the gamebird industry itself have voiced concerns that such systems are incompatible with their ethical values, suggesting that the welfare of gamebirds in cages justifies rigorous assessment. Responses to a consultation exercise on the Defra Code of Practice on the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes favoured the use of enriched over the use of barren cages. The principal aim of this study is therefore to provide empirical evidence of optimum enriched cage design features for pheasants and red-legged partridges.

Assessing whether and how enriched cage-based breeding systems can meet duty of care requirements is currently constrained on two levels: (1) There is a lack of understanding regarding the needs of captive gamebirds and, as a result, little evidence of how cage systems can be designed to meet such needs. (2) There has been little development to date of welfare indicators for gamebirds that could be used to identify optimum cage designs. Since gamebirds have been deliberately selected to retain many of the characteristics of their wild counterparts, the use of welfare indicators developed for fully domesticated species first requires validation and there is likely to be a need for further indicators that are specific to gamebirds.

To assess the suitability of enriched cages to meet duty of care requirements and to define optimum cage designs for bird welfare requires: an understanding of gamebirds’ behavioural and physical needs; identification of how these needs can be met by environmental designs that are feasible for uptake by industry; evidence of bird preferences for specific resources offered in cage environments and an assessment of the impacts of enriched cage designs on bird welfare using sensitive and robust welfare indicators.

Therefore our objectives in this project are to:

1. Form a stakeholder group and review gamebird behavioural ecology to identify a putative list of bird needs.
2. Identify resource types and characteristics with the potential to meet bird needs in enriched cages.
3. Investigate the use of, and preferences for resources identified in Objective 2, and develop a welfare assessment protocol for caged gamebirds.
4. Identify designs for prototype enriched cage systems based on bird preferences for component resources in Objective 3.
5. Build prototype caged systems and assess welfare in these and alternative systems.
6. Submit welfare assessment approach for publication.
7. Disseminate best practice recommendations for enriched cage designs and welfare assessment approaches through a KE campaign.
8. Submit final report.

Working with stakeholders, the project will begin by reviewing the birds` behavioural ecology to allow the development of a putative list of bird needs. Again working with stakeholders, we will then identify resources that could be included in enriched cage designs to meet these needs whilst being feasible for commercial uptake. This will include considering the provision of specific items of cage furniture and cage dimensions. Shortlisted resources will be offered to birds and their preferences for and use of these resources assessed during experimentation that will simultaneously allow the development of welfare indicators. Those resources which are valued by birds will be combined into prototype enriched cage systems with guidance by stakeholders and the welfare indicators assessed to quantify the impact of these systems on welfare. The project will conclude with publication of welfare indicators suitable for caged gamebirds and a knowledge exchange strategy to disseminate evidence of optimum cage designs to industry.

Defra will benefit by gaining: (1) a characterisation of the needs of breeding gamebirds; (2) an appraisal of how these needs can be addressed by enriching caged-based systems; (3) a welfare assessment protocol for gamebirds that may be used in future studies. Gamebird breeders will benefit from clear messages on best practice enrichment strategies for cage systems that can be implemented under commercial conditions and information on sensitive welfare indicators that could be used by gamekeepers. The public will benefit by reassurance that the welfare impacts of cage systems are robustly assessed against duty of care requirements and the industry appraised of optimum designs.
Objective
Objective 1: Form stakeholder group and review behavioural ecology to identify a putative list of bird needs.

Objective 2: Identify resource types and characteristics with the potential to meet bird needs in enriched cages.

Objective 3: Investigate use of, and preferences for resources identified in Objective 2 and develop a welfare assessment protocol for caged gamebirds.

Objective 4: Identify designs for prototype enriched cage systems based on bird preferences for component resources in Objective 3.

Objective 5: Build prototype caged systems and assess welfare in these and alternative systems.

Objective 6: Submit welfare assessment approach for publication.

Objective 7: Disseminate best practice recommendations for enriched cage designs and welfare assessment approaches through a KE campaign.

Objective 8: Submit final report.

Project Documents
• EVID4 - Final project report : AW1303 final report   (761k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2010

To: 2012

Cost: £425,642
Contractor / Funded Organisations
SAC Commercial Ltd
Keywords
Animal Production              
Animal Welfare              
Birds              
Livestock              
On-Farm              
Plants and Animals              
Fields of Study
Animal Welfare