Physiological and behavioural responses of poultry exposed to gas-filled high expansion foam

Disease control measures require poultry to be killed on farms to minimise the risk of disease being transmitted to other poultry and, in some cases, to protect public health. We assessed the welfare implications for poultry of the use of high-expansion gas-filled foam as a potentially humane, emergency killing method. In laboratory trials, broiler chickens, adult laying hens, ducks, and turkeys were exposed to air-, N2-, or CO2-filled high expansion foam (expansion ratio 300:1) under standardised conditions. Birds were equipped with sensors to measure cardiac and brain activity, and measurements of oxygen concentration in the foam were carried out. Initial behavioural responses to foam were not pronounced but included headshakes and brief bouts of wing flapping. Both N2- and CO2-filled foam rapidly induced ataxia/loss of posture and vigorous wing flapping in all species, characteristic of anoxic death. Immersion in air-filled, high expansion foam had little effect on physiology or behaviour. Physiological responses to both N2- and CO2-filled foam were characterised by a pronounced bradyarrythymia and a series of consistent changes in the appearance of the electroencephalogram. These were used to determine an unequivocal time to loss of consciousness in relation to submersion. Mean time to loss of consciousness was 30 s in hens and 18 s in broilers exposed to N2-filled foam, and 16 s in broilers, 1 s in ducks, and 15 s in turkeys exposed to CO2-filled foam. Euthanasia achieved with anoxic foam was particularly rapid, which is explained by the very low oxygen concentrations (below 1 per cent) inside the foam. Physiological observations and post-mortem examination showed that the mode of action of high expansion, gas-filled foam is anoxia, not occlusion of the airway. These trials provide proof-of-principle that submersion in gas-filled, high expansion foam provides a rapid and highly effective method of euthanasia, which may have potential to provide humane emergency killing or routine depopulation. The study is from the College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK.
McKeegan DE, Reimert HG, Hindle VA, et al. Poult Sci 2013; 92(5): 1145-1154.

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