Research and education are critical areas of animal welfare across our supply chain.
To this end, we partner with a variety of professionals, academic institutions and industry groups to advance animal agricultural research and best practices for animal welfare throughout the industry. We also invest in welfare research conducted at Tyson Foods or in collaboration with universities, agricultural organizations or companies. In addition to the external research that we support, we constantly seek out and pilot the latest innovations in animal welfare best practices within our own operations.
Measuring animal preference and the resulting animal welfare outcomes is a central to our approach to animal welfare research. We utilize animal preference as part of our research strategy to better understand what animals want and need. The animals’ voices in the decisions we make help us understand how to improve their welfare. As Marian Dawkins explained in her paper, “Through Animal Eyes: What behaviour tells us”. (2006), “We now have a wide range of methods for “asking” animals what they want, and we should have the humility to use this evidence and ask the animals rather than automatically assuming that we know from our human standpoint”.
Focusing on animal welfare outcomes over inputs is important because inputs tell us only about prescriptive requirements present in an animal’s environment, such as stocking density or the breed of animal. Inputs do not tell us anything about the quality of the animal’s life or the impact of those requirements on the outcomes in the animal. Outcomes are measurable indicators that reflect the true impact of the environment or management practices on the animal’s welfare. Favorable welfare outcomes can be produced with many different types of inputs, but specific inputs do not guarantee favorable welfare outcomes. Outcomes can be measured and tracked and we, therefore, set targets for continuous improvement. As Dr. Temple Grandin often says, “What gets measured, gets managed.”
Tyson Foods also advances animal welfare education beyond our community of team members. We provide access to our facilities and expertise in animal welfare auditing, in cooperation with our supply chain, as well as customers, academics and audit firms. This enables external stakeholders and individuals to gain professional animal auditor certification through PAACO. We open our doors to undergraduate and graduate students in animal science for educational opportunities, providing a place to evaluate welfare practices. Our facilities also serve as locations for various supply chain and customer educational events focused on animal welfare policies and practices.
Within an 80-acre tract sit two unique farms—our Broiler Welfare Research Farm and Concept Farm. Our Broiler Welfare Research Farm is a testing ground for research on key aspects of broiler chicken welfare, such as lighting, enrichments and stocking density. This research is based on an approach that allows animal choice to guide our actions. Because chickens can’t tell us what types of housing they prefer, we create a variety of options within one environment and then observe animals’ behavior. We use a science-based approach to evaluate the impact of the different choices on measurable outcomes of animal welfare and health.
For example, we conduct ongoing research on the optimum lighting conditions for chickens’ welfare. Findings suggest birds are best able to display their natural behaviors in housing with a gradient of lighting from bright to subdued, so they can feed in the bright area and rest where there’s less light. We can determine where birds are most content by measuring the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which are considered indicators of positive welfare. Broilers given a choice of lighting environments not only display better welfare, they have an improved feed conversion ratio, which means this type of lighting could reduce the greenhouse gas impact by reducing grain consumption.
The goal of our proprietary Poultry Concept Farm is to research better outcomes for birds, food safety and the environment. The Poultry Concept Farm acts as an integrated research hub that facilitates collaboration across functions that are studying animal welfare, environmental improvements, alternatives to antibiotics, lighting tests, operational efficiencies, workplace safety and more. As such, the farm allows us to look at our operations in a holistic way—connecting the dots between how one animal welfare practice may impact outcomes in another key area. This integrated approach enables all of our sustainability focus areas to work together to improve the sustainability of poultry production.
Our decades of experience overseeing the care of animals and producing food has taught us how to produce protein sustainably. Our approach balances animal welfare with other important factors such as optimizing the use of water, energy and land used to produce food sustainably. Changing these variables—for example, by switching to slower-growing broiler chicken breeds that require more feed, water and energy before they reach maturity—disrupts this balance. That’s another reason we emphasize outcomes, rather than inputs: many resourced-based inputs that seem important to people may in fact have little direct benefit to animals or their welfare; focusing on areas that improve animal welfare outcomes enhances responsibility and sustainability of animal agriculture.
Our 75,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Incubation Technology Center in Springdale, Arkansas, is the primary supplier of chicks for our northwest Arkansas broiler and Cornish hen operations. The center’s advanced incubation technology allows for reduced handling of animals through the use of robotic arms, which perform repetitive tasks that reduce the risk of strain and muscle fatigue for team members and also ensures consistent handling of the chicks. The Center is equipped with the latest in advanced technology, including high-tech internal environmental controls and ventilation to ensure that fresh air is continuously circulated throughout.
The environment in which pigs are raised on farms is a critical contributing factor to their health and welfare, as well as productivity. As our awareness and knowledge of animal welfare expands, animal behavior and what drives positive welfare outcomes is an increasing area of focus that influences how rearing environments are managed. Of particular interest is the exploration of environmental enrichments and how they can enhance pig environments and stimulate natural behavior, while also having a positive impact on health and productivity. Nestlé and Tyson Foods, together with the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research in the USA, fund one of the first studies to test four different environmental enrichment devices that appear suitable for U.S. pig production systems. The ongoing work by scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Behavior Research Unit at Purdue University focuses on assessing the pigs’ welfare, including measures of behavior, health and growth. With the resulting information, pig farmers gain the potential to apply the environmental enrichment management strategies on farm in an effort to improve animal welfare outcomes.