Following World Animal Day on the 4th October, Newcastle University is doing their bit, and not just by using bad, egg-related puns in their student newspaper.
The Chicken Stress European Training Network is launching a project spreading across the domains of both education and industry to train future leaders in a range of scientific studies. They aim to help egg producers attain the best possible welfare standard for chickens.
Things for chickens have been looking more positive in the last decade, with the ban on battery cages in 2012, and projects like these receiving as much investment as €3.9 million from the EU Marie Curie fund. The programme here in Newcastle is being led by Dr Tom Smulders, reader in evolutionary neuroscience. Each project will involve a PhD student to support the educational facet of the scheme.
Speaking about the project, Dr Tom Smulders said: “We still don’t know what is best for laying hens in these large-housing systems and it is difficult to ask the chickens”.
Humans and animals lead a curious co-existence; one coloured by the binary ideas of slaughter and love. The project will use methods such as neurogenesis, stress hormones, behavioural tests and health parameters. It seems to be a case of seeking to uncover the route to an omelette whilst avoiding the realms of unethical cages and unhappy chickens. Newcastle’s project will work to implement conditions to maximise welfare and productivity.
Third-year Newcastle University student Molly Greeves was unsure about the ethics of the scheme. "I'm suspicious of why they want to de-stress the chickens. I have my doubts that experiments like this are actually focused on the welfare of the chickens and not ways of exploiting them for human benefit."
Let us hope for a happy conclusion, a poultry utopia may be on the horizon yet, so we and the chicken community may at last walk into the sunset chick-to-chick.