The functioning of an animal is influenced by a number of environmental factors, surrounding the animal. Factors, such as temperature, relative humidity and stocking density determines the functioning and welfare of an animal. Additionally, maternal and paternal background of the animal also play a role in this respect. This all means that environmental factors should be taken into account when the animal functioning is studied. Within the Adaptation Physiology Group, the Metabolism Group studies the environmental aspects and their impact on the physiological, and particularly the metabolic, functioning of the animal.
The major research theme is currently focusing on factors affecting the development of the chicken embryo and hatchling. In this research factors such as storage conditions, storage duration, breeder age, egg composition, incubation conditions and feed supply post hatch are studied on the metabolism and physiology of the animal. It is already demonstrated that storage and incubation conditions depends on the background of the egg, such as maternal age and egg weight, and consequently storage and incubation conditions should be adapted to obtain high hatchability of healthy chickens. Additionally, both incubation conditions and post hatch temperature and feed supply determines the performance, health and behavior of the animal in later life. To perform such studies, our group is well equipped with 10 climate respiration chambers, in which almost all environmental conditions (temperature, relative humidity, air speed, draught, oxygen and carbon dioxide supply) can be maintained at set levels. Four of these chambers are specially developed for egg incubation and storage research. For more details visit the website of the Climate Respiration Unit.
A second theme our group is working on, is related to the effects of having a negative energy balance during transitions periods. For example, sows, cows and rabbits during (early) lactation and laying hens early in production, experience a negative energy balance, which is associated with reproductive and metabolic disorders, diseases and mortality. Our research is focusing on factors or methods to reduce this negative energy balance or to help the animal to cope with this negative energy balance. Again, for this research climate respiration chambers are essential for accurate determining energy balances of animals, both individual or in a group. New techniques, such as stable isotopes, help us to research physiological mechanisms, associated with the negative energy balance, but also to determine nutrient transition in the developing embryo.