Light is an important aspect in broiler and laying hen management, as it affects welfare including health and performance. Light has many aspects: spectrum (color, UV provision), intensity, variation (during the day and with age and in the house), and light schedule (light-dark rhythm), and these likely interact with each other. In husbandry guides, quality schemes and legislation, often only light intensity (measured in Lux) and light schedule are included, as these were the only features that could be adjusted/measured before the introduction of LED lights, and before equipment was available that measures Gal lilux and spectrum. With housing systems that had no/little variation in furnishing, the advice was to have an even light distribution throughout the house. However, housing systems have become more complex. This relates both to layer pullets and to broilers, as with the recent developments in housing requirements various functional zones are being distinguished. These zones are addressing specific behavioral needs, such as foraging and resting. In current practice, one evenly distributed type and intensity of light is applied in all these different zones, which may not be the most optimal situation for the birds.
FUNCTILIGHT aims to improve welfare (including health) and performance of fast- and slower-growing broilers and layer pullets by providing them a functional light program (spectrum, intensity, source), that meets the needs of the chickens and stimulates their natural behaviour. The results significantly contribute to the goals of the Uitvoeringsagenda Pluimveesector (2019), stating natural behaviour of chickens is the starting point and requirement for the development of innovative housing systems. In FUNCTILIGHT the unique cooperation of light equipment developers, breeders, integrations, primary farmers and researchers will stimulate fast innovation and implementation in poultry housing improving overall sustainability.
The Dierenbescherming is involved via the supervising committee. Light is an important aspect in broiler and layer pullet management, as it affects welfare including health and performance. Light has many aspects: spectrum (colour, UV provision), intensity, variation (during the day, with age and in the house), and light schedule (light-dark rhythm), and these likely also interact with each other. In husbandry guidelines, quality schemes and legislation, often only light intensity (measured in Lux) and light schedule are included, as these were the only features that could be adjusted before the introduction of LED lights.
With the development of new light technologies (i.e. LED lights) it is now possible to adjust lighting in any possible way to meet the needs of the birds depending on the type of chicken, age, time of day and functional area in the house. However, despite these new technologies and the increasing application of LED lights in poultry houses, in practice lighting programs are often only based on assumptions, because the actual needs and preferences of the chickens are unknown.
In FUNCTILIGHT we will first address the preferences for light intensity, spectrum and their interaction in fast and slower-growing broiler chickens and layer pullets. For broiler chickens, a separate research pillar will address the effects of and preference for daylight, as this is currently often included in welfare regulations
without sufficient scientific justification of the broilers behavioural requirements. The results of the preference tests will be used to design dynamic lighting (variation over the day) and spatial variation in light, and these programs will be tested in commercial broiler flocks (fast- and slower-growing chickens) and layer pullets. For broiler chickens, this includes the provision of daylight by windows and artificially providing daylight, in both fast- and slower-growing flocks. For layer pullets either white LED or wide spectrum LED will be used, depending on the results of the first trials. Also the relation between rearing light conditions and the hens navigation abilities will be determined to reduce bone fractures.
At the end of FUNCTILIGHT, we will have (1) fundamental knowledge on the preferences and needs of fast- and slower growing broilers and layer pullets with regard to light aspects (spectrum, intensity, source (artificial vs. daylight); (2) light programs (including artificial daylight program) for fast- and slower-growing broilers that stimulate their natural behaviour in relation to functional areas in the house, improve their welfare and guarantee optimal performance; (3) a light program for rearing laying hen pullets that stimulates their natural behaviour, prevents the development of injurious pecking, improves their navigation abilities in housing systems and supports their overall welfare. Communication, including with NGOs, is an important aspect of FUNCTILIGHT to stimulate fast uptake of results in practice.