Each year, temperatures across the United Kingdom are rising higher during the summer season. Overtime, poultry production has transformed to keep up with the increasing demand of food. This has led to farmers and production workers adapting to work in hot conditions. Unfortunately, this causes several issues including heat stress within poultry which can have an impact on a farmers’ business. The welfare of birds has been questioned due to the actions farmers and (in some cases) production workers have taken to resolve heat stress in their flock.
Heat stress in birds
Heat stress in birds occurs when humidity and air temperature increase their core body temperature. Birds find it difficult to control the balance between their body heat and heat loss, and chickens do not have sweat glands and therefore have to rely on panting to release any heat from their bodies. Birds can become tired due to heat exhaustion if they cannot find any relief from the heat. Signs of heat stress can include open-mouth breathing, lifted wings and the rate of egg production slowing down.
Heat stress affecting the farming business
Heat stress in poultry can affect egg production, growth and reproduction performance. Recent studies also show that broilers, suffering from chronic heat stress, have a low amount of protein in their bodies and store high contents of fat. All of these issues can affect the gross margin of the farm business. If the gross margin plummets, this can have serious long term effects for the farmer. Financial issues are part of contextual stressors which can impact a farmers’ mental health and wellbeing. It can be challenging for farmers to swiftly resolve heat stress in poultry, whilst ensuring the flock are healthy and safe at all times. Questions have been raised about the welfare of poultry during the summer months since birds have died due to heat stress. In some instances, it has been discovered after the event that proper measures to prevent the birds from heat stress were not put in place.
News on heat stress in poultry
Unfortunately, there have been several cases of the mortality rate increasing due to heat stress in poultry. In 2022, millions of factory farm chickens died during the heatwave. Whistleblowers claimed that little was done to protect them from the heat. Birds that were confined in industrial farm sheds suffered from heat exhaustion as temperature climbed up to 45°C (113°F). Employees of large factories made minimal or no effort to find solutions in fear of losing their jobs.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were “deeply concerned” about the issue. One shed worker mentioned how birds were “left to die in the heat” and “written off” as a cost rather than investing in methods to prevent the situation from reoccuring.
Richard Griffiths, Chief Executive of the British Poultry Council, said in a written statement: “Mitigating measures exist to maintain the health and welfare of birds. As is the case for other industries, we are urging all poultry keepers to advance these measures to cope with extraordinary weather conditions in the longer term.”
Livetec solutions for farming challenges
Heat stress poses significant risks to both poultry and farmers’ businesses. In response to soaring temperatures, individuals may be tempted to relax their biosecurity measures, inadvertently increasing the likelihood of dangerous disease transmission.
Livetec are experts in animal welfare and livestock protection, and while biosecurity measures alone may not directly address heat stress, their implementation can indirectly contribute to mitigating its impact by promoting overall health, reducing disease burdens, and enhancing resilience in the face of environmental challenges.
Livetec is equipped with personal solutions that are tailored to your specific needs. The team can recommend effective measures to put in place to ensure your poultry and business is protected. For more information, contact the Livetec Biosecurity Advisory Service team today by clicking here.