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Practice-led innovation supported by science and market-driven actors in the laying hen and other livestock sectors

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Hennovation (Practice-led innovation supported by science and market-driven actors in the laying hen and other livestock sectors)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-02-29

The HENNOVATION project is a thematic network funded under the topic 'Closing the research and innovation divide: the crucial role of innovation support services and knowledge exchange’ of the Horizon 2020 EU Research and Innovation programme.
For many years a linear, macroeconomic or supply-driven model of scientific innovation has been most important in guiding investment decisions, science policy, technical solutions, decision-making and innovation practice within agriculture. It is more and more realized that innovation that is responsive to market demand, to agricultural practice and to the needs of sustainability (a ‘pull’ model) is increasingly relevant to effectively address current societal needs.
Using the laying hen sector as a case study, the HENNOVATION project will demonstrate the potential of innovation led by laying hen farmers and end-of-lay hen transporters and processors. This will be realized through the establishment of innovation networks (led by farmers or transporters/processors) that pro-actively search for and utilize new ideas to make farm practices and businesses more effective, efficient and sustainable. These networks will interact with veterinary surgeons, farm advisors and researchers, egg packing companies and hen processors, consumers and those certifying egg production.
The overarching aim of these networks is to develop and disseminate technical innovations based on practice, as well as on economic and scientific information to increase sustainability of the laying hen sector. The networks will initially tackle two particular issues of concern in the production chain: injurious pecking in egg-laying flocks and the sustainable after-use of end-of-lay hens.
The project will develop the skills of participants in the innovation networks and enhance the communication and interaction between individuals within each network. Activities include the development of a network communication infrastructure to support the knowledge sharing within and amongst the networks and the development of an e-learning course for advisory services to increase the competence and capacity of these services to support the networks.
The project will also enable farmers and industry to identify research priorities for the laying hen sector and based on the project results policy recommendations will be developed on how innovation networks can best be exploited to help others facing the same challenge amongst the European laying hen industry.
Beyond the laying hen sector, the HENNOVATION project results are expected to inspire and support other livestock sectors and to feed into the European Innovation Partnership for Agriculture.
The HENNOVATION project promotes practice-driven innovation through the establishment and encouragement of innovation networks of producers or those associated with the hen-processing industry to proactively search for, share and use new ideas to improve hen welfare and the efficiency and sustainability of laying-hen systems. Much of the progress made within the reporting period has been in establishing innovation networks and the operational means to facilitate, support and evaluate them (along with evaluating and assessing the process of facilitation itself).

Currently we are working with in total 18 innovation networks in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Sweden, The Czech Republic and Spain. Thirteen networks focus on injurious pecking on-farm and five networks focus on end-of-lay handling and transport, one of which is a European level network.
The size of the on-farm networks varies with typically five to eight producers with a variety of support actors based on the specific topic addressed by the network: amongst others feed selling companies, egg packing and processing companies, scientists, veterinarians, pullet rearers and industry advisors. The laying-hen production systems used by the farmers vary between networks, e.g. organic, free range, aviary and enriched cage systems. The networks are exploring a variety of topics based on their needs and ideas for improvement such as:
- the effect of light (LED) on feather pecking and vision of chickens,
- nutrition especially looking at vitamins and minerals to put in feed as a preventative for injurious pecking,
- adaptation of the feather scoring protocol and detection of early signs of feather pecking in non-beaked trimmed birds,
- increased communication between pullet rearers and producers,
- hen predation and injurious pecking ,
- use of collaborative learning approaches to share knowledge on feather pecking
- new ideas for marketing eggs of non-beak trimmed birds
Several networks in different countries have identified similar topics to work on, which provides opportunities for trans-national collaboration.
Four national networks have been formed working on end-of-lay handling and transport: one in the United Kingdom, one in the Netherlands, one in Sweden and one in the Czech Republic. These networks include veterinarians, national egg associations, laying hen processors, industry advisors, a poultry handling systems manufacturer, transporters and producers.
The network in the United Kingdom is investigating and trialling options for improving the efficiency of depopulation from cages. In The Netherlands the network is planning to investigate feed withdrawal times and techniques to mitigate the effects and improve bird welfare. The network formed in Sweden is interested in mobile slaughter. And in the Czech Republic they are going to trial adjustments to stocking density with the aim of reducing mortality in transit (Dead on Arrival). On a European level a network is formed which is working towards improved guidelines particularly regarding stocking densities during transport.
Tools and mechanisms have been developed to facilitate the networks. These enable information exchange and enhance communication and interaction between and within networks and their support actors. Eleven local network facilitators were trained to mobilize the networks, guide each network through the innovation process, promote learning and encourage engagement with support actors. Two international knowledge exchange events were organised for support actors, with the themes of Injurious pecking or end-of-lay handling and transport. A knowledge base on both injurious pecking and end-of-lay handling and transport was compiled and made available in a user-friendly form accessible online ( The HenHub is an interactive wiki, not only providing information, but also enabling network members to add information and to share knowledge with others.
Finally, working in close
The implementation of the interactive innovation approach through innovation networks provides significant progression beyond the state of the art in particular in countries such as the Czech Republic and Spain. In these countries, where there is still a focus on more linear knowledge transfer approaches, bringing producers and support actors together in one platform for knowledge sharing and collaborative learning is an innovation in itself.
The knowledge base, operationalised in the form of a wiki (HenHub) provides a significant information and data resource for the commercial egg-laying sector. The use of a wiki structure allows easy accessibility and the opportunity for advisors, industry and producers to comment on the information available and add their knowledge and experience thereby integrating science and practical knowledge.
Creating clarity and understanding to the mechanisms to encourage and operationalise support and network facilitation and the means to assess their effectiveness are important steps beyond the current state of the art.
The networks are actively working towards finding innovative practical solutions for relevant problems in the laying hen sector and there may have important socio-economic impact as well as wider societal implications.
The Hennovation project is actively promoting the interactive innovation approach of the EIP into other funding sources, in other livestock sectors (apart from the laying-hen sector). For example the Hennovation project is linked with a recently funded project by the Scottish government which aims to include farmer participative processes to select measure(s) of positive welfare for use within the farm assurance context. We also support research work using multi-stakeholder learning groups to reduce antimicrobial use together with AHBD dairy (UK dairy coop) and we work together with other organisation with similar aims such as the Innovative Farmers initiative of the Soil Association in the UK and the new EU H2020 EUROdairy project.