PhD scholarship Chickenstress

ChickenStress a European Training Network (ETN)ESR 8 – free range PhD – Early life conditions and individual differences in range use in free-ranging laying hens

Location: ILVO _ Animal Sciences _ Scheldeweg 68 _ 9090 Melle (Belgium)
Supervisor: Dr. Frank Tuyttens Tel. +32 9 2722605
Vacancy number: EV/2019/011/Dier68


Many consumers pay a premium prize for free-range eggs mainly because they associate such production systems with better animal welfare. A properly designed free range area provides hens with ample space, stimuli and possibilities to express highly motivated behaviours (e.g. foraging and dustbathing). Nonetheless these animal welfare benefits may not be fully realised on commercial farms because the hens do not use the free range optimally. The reasons are not fully understood but seem to relate to inadequate designs of the free-range, inappropriate early-life conditions and individual hen-differences. In this study, innovative hen tracking technology will allow these factors to be unravelled.

The objectives of the PhD project are to 1) investigate the effect early-life conditions that better mimic incubation, hatching and rearing by natural mothers on range use and welfare; and 2) understand causes and consequences of individual differences in ranging behaviour. A 2x2 factorial experiment will be conducted with half the birds incubated in darkness (standard practice), and the other half in 12:12 light cycle. Of these two treatments, half the pullets will be reared with access to a dark brooder (a shelter that mimics the dark warmth of a mother hen’s wings) and the other half without. At the end of the rearing period, stress resilience, fear and other welfare indicators will be compared between treatments. The birds will then be transferred to an experimental field and housed in mobile poultry houses with access to a range with two types of vegetation cover. During the egg-laying period, the birds will be individually tracked to quantify their range use, using an ultra-wideband tracking system already in use at ILVO. These same birds will also be scored on productivity, behaviour, welfare, fear, and stress resilience. Two predictions will be tested: (1) that light incubation and dark brooders improve welfare, stress-resilience, productivity and range-use of hens, and (2) that hens that range more are less fearful and stress-resilient and have better welfare.

The student will be employed by ILVO (Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) and registered for a PhD at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Ghent University (Belgium). The student will spend a four-month secondment with our academic partner at the Open University (Israel), to learn how to process chicken brain tissue and to quantify hippocampal neurogenesis as a measure of stress-resilience. The student will also spend a further 2 month secondment with our industrial partner Lakes Free Range Co. (UK) to understand the working of a free-range egg production business and assist in optimizing processes for welfare and productivity.


This is a Maria-Curie scholarship:
The deadline for applications is Wednesday 15 May 2019 (midnight Brussels time).

EARLY STAGE: The applicant must be within the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of her/his research career (starting from the moment you obtain a degree that makes you eligible to study for a PhD) and not have a doctoral degree. Adjustments can be made for career breaks.

MOBILITY: The applicant must not have resided or carried out her/his main activity (e.g. work, studies) in the country where she/he has been recruited for more than 12 months in the three years immediately before the recruitment date (this is the day on which you start your PhD).

Start date: October 2019
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