Natural hen behaviors lead to better performance

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Just like people, chickens need to be challenged a little to perform at their best.

That’s what John Brunnquell, president and founder of Warsaw, Indiana, free-range egg producer Egg Innovations told the Organic Egg Farmers of America Symposium on March 14. The event took place in St. Paul, Minnesota, in conjunction with the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention. Brunnquell is the president of the farming association.

John Brunnquell, Egg Innovations

John Brunnquell, president and founder of Egg Innovations, speaks to Organic Egg Farmers of America members and allies on March 14 in St. Paul, Minnesota. | Austin Alonzo

Allostasis

While the growing movement toward producing cage-free, free-range and organic eggs is relatively new, the chicken’s desire to express natural behaviors is not. Hens inherently want to dust bathe, perch, forage, scratch and socialize, and when they get to, good things happen, Brunnquell said. Egg Innovation’s birds have access to pastures year-round and, because of it – along with experienced management – the birds perform better and experience lower mortality than their breed standards.

Brunnquell said the natural behaviors help release the genetic potential of the bird to lay more eggs. It relates to allostasis, or the concept that putting a consistent amount of limited stress on an animal can be beneficial to its health. He compared it to how regular, moderate exercise can benefit people’s overall health.

The birds, he said, need only about two hours a day to lay their eggs, eat, drink and defecate, meaning they have 14 other daylight hours with nothing…

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