Virtual reality… a technology that is of the future that we are starting to see pop up more and more. But would you ever think to use it for animal welfare?

For one researcher at Iowa State University, virtual reality could be the answer to raising healthy chickens.

Melha Mellata is an associate professor at Iowa State University and the lead researcher in the study.  She learned about how people have used virtual reality when going to a seminar by James Oliver, director, of the Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University.

They use virtual stimulation, for example, in the military in aviation, and people also use it in the medical field. For example, now in the hospital, they tried to create a very healthy environment to reduce stress; and it's a new field of course, but after his presentation, I was like, why can we not use it in chickens?

Animal health and welfare are fresh in people’s minds, especially after watching millions of commercial and backyard chickens be depopulated as a result of Avian Influenza this year.

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But why would virtual reality be the answer to poultry health?

It mimics the natural environment very well. If you take the chickens and bring them outside-- it's not realistic if you have a high number of chickens outside. There are many challenges in raising chickens in a free-range environment. We can rise a small number, but we cannot rise 1000s of chickens.

This is because we do not have the space and there are other challenges such as weather and predators.

To do this study, researchers displayed video projections of chickens in a free-range environment. These senses depicted indoor facilities with access to an outdoor fenced scratch area and an unfenced open prairie. There were 34 chickens exposed to these videos on the walls of their housing over a five-day period.

What they found was this group showed positive poultry behaviors, such as preening, perching, dust-bathing, and nesting. Blood samples from both the VR and control groups were also compared and they found that differences included lower indicators of stress and increased resistance to Avian Pathogenic E. coli bacteria.

More about this study and the technology used:

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