Date Published: 5 April 2011

Omega-3 fatty acids found to be good for the bone health of laying hens

Health News from Bristol, England (UK).
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Omega acids could reduce bone breakage in laying hens

Recent research carried out at Bristol University in England suggests that adding the ideal combination of fatty acids to the diets of laying hens can significantly reduce bone breakage during lay. This research could may lead to important developments for maintaining food production whilst also promoting animal welfare.

Bone breakage is a considerable welfare issue in laying hens and of the 29 million egg-laying birds in the UK a large proportion experience varying degrees of bone damage. This is one of many concerns to vegetarians and especially vegans (who don't eat any animal products such as hens' eggs). While increased food production may be considered important by those dealing with the challenges of global food security, most people woud hopefully agree that this must not be achieved at the cost of the welfare of farmed animals. Reducing bone breakages in laying hens is therefore a very important issue.

Lindsay Wilkins, Research Fellow in Food Animal Science at the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences, said:

" Laying hens are particularly susceptible to high levels of damage to the keel (breast bone) which result from their relatively poor bone health. This is an increasing issue as the industry moves towards production systems that allow for more movement and access to outside. Whilst these systems have obvious welfare benefits they also increase the higher risk of accidents and breakages."

Dr John Tarlton, Senior Research Fellow, who leads the present Bristol study added:

" Our research has shown that omega-3 fatty acid added to the diet of free-range egg laying hens resulted in the birds' bones being significantly stronger, with up to 40% fewer breaks."

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said:

" To ensure that we can feed a growing world population sustainably and well it is essential that farmers maximise production, but this cannot be done at the expense of animal welfare. By working with industrial partners researchers are able to implement their work more quickly to the benefit of farmers and their hens."

Another member of the Bristol group, Dr Michael Toscano, Research Associate, continued:

" In addition to benefits to the chicken, omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial for human health. One objective of our research has been to produce an egg with fatty acid content that benefits consumers, whilst achieving the same bone strengthening effect in the chicken. Our next challenge is to find the ideal balance of different fatty acids to maximise the hen's welfare whilst producing more nutritious eggs resulting in a positive outcome for chickens, producers and consumers."


Partners in this research:
The researchers worked with Noble Foods as an industrial partner and their findings are already being implemented to produce improved feeds. This work was also carried out with support from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This study is a follow on project to the Defra funded research by Bristol University assessing the welfare of laying hens and ways to alleviate bone damage.

Source: Bristol University, England (UK)

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