Stress: Factors, Effects, Abatement

Has anyone ever said that to you? Have you ever told that to your birds? There are numerous things that can cause stress in your birds. Heat, light, overcrowding, ventilation, noise, fear, lack of food, nutritional deficiencies, disease, infection, and on and on. In this video we want to take a quick look at two distinct types of stress and their impact on your birds.

“Chill out, don’t stress!”

Has anyone ever said that to you? Have you ever told that to your birds? There are numerous things that can cause stress in your birds. Heat, light, overcrowding, ventilation, noise, fear, lack of food, nutritional deficiencies, disease, infection, and on and on. In this video we want to take a quick look at two distinct types of stress and their impact on your birds.  

Stress is a physiological, biological or psychological response to a demanding situation, or stressor. Stressors are stimuli that disrupt homeostasis. In other words, stress comes from change. We even see that in our own life. The better you handle change, the better your stress response- Your birds are no different! From hatch to catch, your birds are dealing with change constantly. 

There are two types of stress: short term and long term. Pretty simple, right?  

Short term or acute stress means exactly what its sounds like- stress that only affects the bird for a short period of time. This type of stress causes a fight or flight response in the bird that produces two important physiological changes: an increase in blood glucose and production of epinephrine, also referred to as adrenaline. Both of these provide the body with quick usable energy so that they can get away from the stress. The impacts of this type of stress can be anything from disrupting their eating or rest to external injuries created during the “flight.” 

Long term or chronic stress- meaning stress that persists over a long period of time- causes a completely different response. The birds’ body cannot sustain the production of adrenaline and increase in blood glucose for long periods of time, so the body goes to Plan B. When exposed to chronic stressors, birds begin to produce high volumes of corticosteroids such as cortisol. Their bodies begin to break down fat into fatty acids to be used in the bloodstream as energy.  The less important functions of the body are shut down to provide more resources for those that are critical. This type of stress can also cause immunosuppression, meaning the immune system is sacrificed for other bodily functions. This allows for disease and infection, which only causes more stress. At the end of the day, your birds are using energy producing cortisol, making fat and fighting diseases rather than building muscle. And this is NOT what we want. 

It is important to be able to notice the signs of stress amongst your birds, such as feather picking, abnormal feeding activity or aggression. Your houses are filled with stressors, and we have to find ways to minimize these stressors to give your birds the most comfortable and quiet grow-out possible!  Keeping short term stressors from becoming long term stressors is a big part of that.  

When you enter your houses to check birds or collect mortality, try dimming the lights to help keep them more calm. Consider if there is a better time of day to check your birds than others. Pay attention to heating levels as your birds grow- a five week-old bird obviously won’t need the same heat as a five day-old bird. Don’t run a weedeater down the side of your house with birds present. Make sure water is flowing well, especially on hot days. Every farm is different and some stressors can be unique to your farm. Sometimes you have to sit back, pay attention and just figure it out.   

Stress is a part of our life and definitely a part of your bird's life. There are things we can do to help reduce stress but you will never eliminate it entirely. Your job is twofold: reduce the stressors when you can and when you can’t, just help them get through it. Make sure they are getting everything nutritionally that they need.  Ensure that there is always good, clean water and plenty of it, supplement with vitamins and electrolytes and provide good air flow, proper temperature and dry litter. This by no means is a conclusive list, but ideas of what you can provide that will help your birds deal with the stressors that you can’t control.  

Until next time, DON’T STRESS. Keep those birds chill.

The Author
Allen Reynolds
Poultry Development
Allen has worked in the poultry industry for 15 years, gaining experience in raising birds, house operations, equipment and bird health. As our Poultry Development Rep, he is passionate about improving the lives of farmers through natural poultry solutions and education. In addition to outstanding customer service and superior poultry support, he is also involved in helping growers through our Poultry Biosecurity Youtube Channel. Allen works to stay up to date on the latest industry news to bring relevant topics to our subscribers. He is often seen as the host, sharing profitable tips and tricks to poultry farmers. Outside of the office, Allen enjoys working on the farm, scuba diving, and riding dirt bikes.