SSA - Assessing transient affective states in poultry using intracranial recording of brain oscillations.

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Institute of Neuroscience


The modern poultry meat industry employs high-throughput, high-volume processes for raising, transporting, killing and processing birds. These include housing birds in large sheds, putting birds into transport modules, transporting these modules to abattoirs, unloading them there, stunning the birds, killing them and processing the carcasses. The efficiency of this process reduces the price for the consumer and produces a financially sustainable protein source. But the processes also need to be socially sustainable, so the industry aims to maintain the highest possible welfare standards throughout this entire process. This project therefore falls into the "Welfare of Managed Animals" strategic priority of the BBSRC.
The challenge to industry is to improve the processes without reducing (and ideally while improving) the welfare of the birds. All steps from catching to processing are likely to interact with each other with regard to the birds' total stress levels. Monitoring the birds' welfare throughout the process would allow the industry to assess the welfare impact of different processing steps and their combinations and choose the highest welfare combination. Monitoring welfare during catching, transportation, handling and stunning is not easy, however.
This project aims to develop, validate and apply a novel approach to high temporal resolution welfare monitoring, assuming that poor welfare could be associated with short episodes of fear and pain (e.g. during catching and transport). To monitor the birds' states of fear and pain, and distinguish these states from more positive affective states (e.g. positive excitement), we will record brain activity (local field potentials; LFPs) from electrodes implanted in relevant brain areas, using modern wireless recording devices that can be attached to the birds without restricting their movements.
First we will implant birds in the lab with electrodes in the hippocampus, amygdala and NCL (the avian equivalent of prefrontal cortex), expose them to different acute situations (both positive and negative, including fear, brief pain and preferred food), and record LFPs from all three areas. We will look for electrophysiological signatures that can distinguish the different states from each other. We will then focus on the most discriminating brain areas and features, and take them into a commercial setting with the assistance of our CASE partner. There, we will follow birds through from catching to just prior to slaughter, with the aim of identifying potentially welfare-limiting points or combinations along the processing chain. Nobody to date has monitored welfare throughout the entire combination of processes. We will therefore be working collaboratively with users of our results.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011186/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1839442 Studentship BB/M011186/1 01/10/2016 25/12/2020 Daniel David O'Hagan