SPEAKER 1: One of the challenges that agriculture has is in dealing with classical breeding. Classical breeding systems normally use a selection criteria of one or two specific traits. So if we want to have a large-breasted turkey, we breed for a large-breasted turkey. The problem we then have is that the animal's legs may not be designed to handle that amount of weight. And so we then have problems which we do currently have in animal agriculture of leg weakness. Part of the challenge is then to get our breeders to think about how do we deal with leg weakness.
The economic incentives have not always been there. So one of the roles of the animal welfare program is to put more incentive on improving the breeding programs and to get the breeding programs to deal with new issues. By way of a little bit of background, when we do classical breeding we move traits on a chromosome. So a single chromosome has a large number of genes. And we're looking for one of those genes that we're selecting for, but we don't always know what else is coming with it. And so that's always been the challenge.
So if I might jump out of the animal welfare and just talk a little bit about genetic modification, the beauty of genetic modification in the modern technology, the whole explosion of new technology that we are going through in modern biology-- for which I know there a number of discussions on the cyber tower by other faculty at Cornell who are much more qualified in those areas-- is that we can now target traits. So we can have a single trait that we need to breed into our animals. And this would be in many cases, extremely advantageous.
I should also point out for those of you who own pets that the same problems of breeding occur with the intensive breeding of pets. Certainly some of our dogs and cat varieties are actually overbred when we have animals that also have problems. Now people don't talk about them as much because we all love our pets and we don't always want to talk about it. And some of the groups that are very quick to point out faults in animal agriculture don't want to point out faults in pets because they're counting on you folks to donate to their activities.
And so I think we need to, if we're going to think about animal agriculture, we also need to think about some of these issues in terms of pets. And I want to give one practical example of where even classical breeding, if one put an emphasis on the correct traits, can actually do some interesting things. So that if we focus on social traits or group housing traits, et cetera, we can sometimes make real progress real quickly.
Many egg-laying birds are kept in cages with a number of birds in a cage. And when those birds are in the cages, they need to be debeaked because chickens are actually quite cannibalistic and really pick at each other. And so we clip the end up their beak off so that they won't hurt each other. So in fact, we're doing a short-term, acute, veterinary practice that might hurt the animal, but we're doing it so that they're not hurting each other in the long run.
And at the end of a period of blight they will also have terrible feathering. Their feathers will have mostly fallen off. And they will be almost partially defeathered. And they look really lousy to people. The animals are comfortable, they're being kept at a temperature where that feather loss is not a problem. But it again, makes for a horrible appearance. So one of my colleagues said, wait a minute. How do we deal with this?
So he took the expensive breeding stock, he had male and female adult breeders that were generally kept in individual cages. They were valuable animals. They were given individual cages. They were still a little roomier than a chicken cage. But in fact, they were kept individually. So they never had to socialize. So he then put some of those expensive animals together in a cage where they had to socialize and began to select for those birds who did better in that situation and therefore picked the progeny that did better.
And in five generations of breeding chickens, which was only a two or three year process, he had produced a strain of birds that when you were finished, they were perfectly feathered as you would expect. There was no feather problem and they did not have to be debeaked. So they were living in the social environment without having to be debeaked.
So again, if we can put the pressure on the system to breed for traits of animal welfare, then I believe that we can correct some of the problems we're having simply by using either classical breeding, which I think makes some of you happier. And others of these traits may do better and be more quickly resolved by using the techniques of genetic modification or biotechnology, which I realize some of you may be less comfortable with. But in fact, allows us not to then bring in other traits that we need to deal with.
While we're talking about cage layers, there's one other point that I think this might be an opportune time to talk about, which is the number of birds in a cage. And this again, is an example of where we've had a problem, we've addressed it, we're working on it, and we have a plan for correcting the issue. When we first built cages, we built them to house approximately five birds in a standard American cage. Five birds, we get a decent production, which in modern times with high-producing animals is probably close to 300 eggs per bird. So if we have five birds in the cage, we will get 1,500 eggs per year per cage.
Now cages are expensive, indoor housing is expensive. And some folks figured out, wait a minute. If we put a six-bird in that cage, we can get more eggs. Now look what's happening. We're getting from one cage, 1650, 1700 eggs. But if we had six birds in those cages and all of the birds were happy, we should be getting 1800 eggs. So what we now have is a situation where total production economically is improved, But we now know that at least one, probably two birds in this cage, the low end of the peck order, are being stressed. There is no reason to permit that.
So part of what we're trying to do is go back to a situation where there are only five birds per cage so that each of the bird can express her maximum egg-laying capacity.
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Animal welfare is a controversial topic in modern agriculture. Join Joe Regenstein as he examines the ethical issues involved with the production of food and fiber in modern agriculture.
This video is part 2 of 9 in the Animal Welfare series.