Becky Hothersall, Gina Caplen, Jo Murrell, Mohammed Nasr, Christine Nicol, Avril Waterman-Pearson, Claire Weeks

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


In the UK, 840 million meat chickens and 10 billion eggs are consumed every year. Selection for high productivity to meet this demand is associated with high prevalences of health problems such as lameness in broiler chickens and bone fractures in laying hens. While we can measure the effects of such conditions on mobility and musculoskeletal pathology, there is currently no simple way to determine how painful they are. Previous work at Bristol found evidence that lame birds preferentially consumed food containing analgesic, suggesting that lameness causes pain and that chickens are capable of complex decision-making processes involved in regulating their own analgesia. However, interpreting the results is complex, partly because lameness affected even „sound‟ control birds, and because the same degree of lameness may have had various underlying causes that resulted in different severities of pain. Our study will build on and expand this work, initially by quantifying the pain experienced by „in pain‟ birds and by determining appropriate „pain free‟ control groups. It will also examine new drug models in detail and explore two different pain models (lameness in broilers and keel bone fractures in laying hens). We will report initial results from the first stage of the project: examining how a bird’s performance on a range of standardised behavioural tests relates to its underlying pathology and how these tests correlate with each other. We will use groups of birds with similar type and severity of pathology and the tests showing the best consistency and repeatability will be used to develop a “pain index”. This will provide a new, objective tool with which to select homogeneous groups of birds suffering a similar pain experience. This tool will be used to examine the effects of analgesia on pain, and later in the project, to explore whether chickens are able to reduce or even eliminate their pain by selecting painkilling drugs. If we find that chickens are able to select analgesia to manage their own pain, the technique could allow animals to „tell‟ us which common conditions are painful and thereby compromise welfare. The results will also provide fascinating new insights into the cognitive capacities of birds that will inform debate on their welfare requirements.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationScience in the Service of Animal Welfare II
Subtitle of host publicationRecent advances in animal welfare science UFAW Animal Welfare Conference
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2010
EventRecent advances in animal welfare science UFAW Animal Welfare Conference York - UK, York, United Kingdom
Duration: 30 Jun 201030 Jun 2010


ConferenceRecent advances in animal welfare science UFAW Animal Welfare Conference York
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Pain
  • Chickens
  • Assessment


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