Early detection of behavioural changes during heat stress in broilers

June 8, 2023

Heat waves are becoming more frequent in the Netherlands and can have negative consequences for the health, welfare and performance of broilers. In a study by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) it is currently being investigated whether heat stress can be detected already at an early stage, based on changes in the behaviour of the chickens, and what management strategies can help reduce the impact of heat stress as much as possible.

Heat stress in broilers

The first changes that can be detected at high temperatures are likely changes in the behaviour of the chickens. At high temperatures, broilers might, for example, show an increase in how much water they drink and a decrease in their activity levels and feed intake. Furthermore, when the temperatures are too high, broilers might sit more with their wings spread out and start breathing more heavily. These changes will be visible sooner than a reduced performance or increased mortality, which might be the eventual consequences of prolonged heat stress.

Early detection of behavioural changes

Given that changes in behaviour are likely the first indication of heat stress in broilers, automated detection of behaviour can potentially help to intervene quickly when heat stress arises. In the first part of this study, we examined the activity of a small group of broilers during a heat wave in the Netherlands. It was observed that the activity patterns of the broilers appear to change during high temperatures. When the ambient temperature was higher, the birds became less active during the light period during the day, but the activity increased during the dark periods at night. Possibly, this is linked to the fact that it is often relatively cool at night.

Follow-up research

In the continuation of this project, alterative potential indicators of heat stress in broilers that can also be detected automatically using sensor technologies will be examined. We also aim to gain more insight into the (effectiveness of) management adaptations that are already implemented in practice in order to reduce the impact of heat stress. For that reason, we will organize one or more discussion meetings with broiler farmers at the beginning of autumn.

Would you like to know more or participate?

Are you a poultry farmer (broilers, layers, parent stock)? We are very interested in your experiences. Contributing to this research can be done by joining the discussion and/or filling out our short survey. Would you like to know more about this research? Please feel free to contact us via the contact form at the top of this page.