Impact of the separate pre-slaughter stages on broiler chicken welfare

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Abstract

Before broilers are slaughtered, several parties are involved in catching, loading, transportation and lairage. During these pre-slaughter activities, broilers are exposed to a variety of stressors. A detailed understanding of how broiler welfare is impaired during each stage could help the responsible parties to make targeted improvements. The aim of this study was to identify welfare problems occurring during the consecutive stages of commercial broiler transportation and to identify risk factors associated with the identified welfare problems. Commercial Belgian transports (n = 81) were assessed in spring (n = 14), summer (n = 33), autumn (n = 10), and winter (n = 24), and potential risk factors were recorded by the observer. Animal-based welfare indicators were scored before the start of the pre-slaughter phase as well as after the catching, transport and lairage, and slaughter stages to assess the impact of each stage. The most frequently observed welfare impairments were vent and thigh lesions, panting, wing fractures, and bruising on wings and breasts. Our results show that the impact of the pre-slaughter phase on broiler welfare is multifaceted. The overall pre-slaughter phase resulted in a mean weight decrease of 5.3%, a prevalence of 1.4% in leg bruising, and 3.7% in breast or wing bruising. Wing fractures occurred mainly during the catching stage: Prevalence increased from 0.1% to 1.9% (P = 0.003). A welfare comparison before and after transportation and lairage revealed that plumage had become more soiled (P = 0.003), body temperature decreased by 0.7°C (P < 0.001), huddling prevalence increased by 0.5% (P = 0.008), prevalence of birds with splayed legs increased by 0.08% (P = 0.008), prevalence of supine birds decreased by 0.05% (P = 0.003), and 0.1% fewer birds with wings stuck in the crates (P = 0.010) were observed. Risk factor analyses revealed that carefully choosing the catching crew, minimizing thermal stress, reducing duration of transportation, and worker training are promising actions that may improve broiler welfare during the pre-slaughter phase.

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