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Happier hens and good quality eggs

A European project has researched into how improving the welfare of hens can be achieved whilst maintaining egg quality.
Happier hens and good quality eggs
In 2012, legislation will come into force that aims to abolish the conventional battery cage system and replace it with enriched cages or floor systems. Enriched cages, for example, have to supply the bird with a minimum of space, a nest box, litter, perches and claw-shortening devices.

Recent studies, however, indicate that moving hens to these new, more humane systems will increase contamination of eggs simply because of greater exposure to infectious agents or parasites. The EU-funded project 'Reducing egg susceptibility to contaminations in avian production in Europe' (Rescape) aimed to develop new methods that enable the production of safe eggs from humane production systems.

Rescape scientists assessed egg contamination in various housing systems and identified risk factors to develop a method for identifying eggs likely to be contaminated. The team developed novel decontamination treatments for those eggs that present a health risk.

Tackling the problem at the molecular level is usually a more sustainable option. The researchers thus developed a vaccine against poultry mite, a widespread parasite causing pain and discomfort for the bird and a decrease in egg production.

Genomically, the Marker Assisted Selection technique was used to identify hens that are more likely to produce non-contaminated eggs. One interesting example is that some hens produce eggs that have a tougher membrane lining the shell for protection against penetration of the Salmonella bacterium.

Widespread dissemination of project results continues to keep all stakeholders including scientists, poultry industry professionals and consumers informed of project advances. Rescape achievements promise to make life better for the hen, the consumer and the European egg industry generally.

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