Tina M Widowski
Position/Title: Egg Farmers of Canada Research Chair in Poultry Welfare, Professor
Phone: (519) 824-4120 ext. 52408
Office: ANNU 246
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Tina had limited exposure to animals, aside from family pets and regular trips to the zoo. With a passion for science and a strong interest in animal biology and behaviour, she wanted to become a veterinarian or a zoologist. But as a university student, she “discovered” animal agriculture. Tina volunteered in the lab of an animal science professor who studied farm animal welfare, which was a relatively new field at the time. As she learned more about modern livestock housing and management systems — and the animal welfare concerns associated with them — she became inspired to help millions of farm animals by improving their quality of life. She is now director of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph and holds the Egg Farmers of Canada Chair in Poultry Welfare Research.
- B.Sc. in Ecology, Ethology and Evolution at University of Illinois-Urbana (1983)
- M.Sc. in Animal Science at University of Illinois-Urbana (1984)
- Ph.D. in Animal Science at University of Illinois-Urbana (1988)
Affiliations and Partnerships
- Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare
- Poultry Health Research Network
- Arrell Food Institute
- Food From Thought Leadership Team
Tina studies how modern farming practices affect the behaviour, physiology and welfare of the billions of animals that people use for food. She has mainly focused on poultry and pigs because these animals live in the most confined housing systems. Growing awareness of animal welfare has led to demands for housing that allows for greater freedom of movement and more opportunities for animals to perform their natural behaviours. Balancing the health and welfare of farm animals with the economic sustainability of farms is key to Tina’s research. Regardless of how strongly consumers feel about animal welfare, she says, they are rarely willing to pay more for the eggs and meat that are produced in more enriched systems. As agriculture continues to evolve, Tina wants to help farmers use new technologies in ways that maintain efficiency while improving animal health and welfare. Working closely with producers, she often visits farms to understand their needs and challenges, and invites them to her lab to learn about her research.
Current Research Projects
New housing systems for laying hens
The egg farming industry will experience massive changes in the next few decades. New codes of practice introduced in March 2017 will eliminate conventional battery cages for laying hens and replace them with enriched cages and “free run” systems that provide more space and accommodate their behavioral needs. But how much space does a hen need? What type of nest, perch or scratch area does she prefer? Tina wants to help farmers make the transition to new housing systems by first answering their questions and concerns. This project is funded by Egg Farmers of Canada and OMAFRA.
Skeletal health of laying hens
Laying hens are prone to osteoporosis and keel bone (sternum) fractures because daily egg laying depletes their bodies of calcium. Enriched housing systems can increase the risk for injury; collisions with housing structures are a common cause of keel bone fractures in hens. Tina is studying how diet, exercise and training can promote better bone health and prevent injuries. This project is funded by Egg Farmers of Canada, OMAFRA, CFREF and Food From Thought.
Preparing the young bird
Young chicks and growing hens (pullets) have not been the focus of much research. Once they have reached maturity at around 18 weeks, they will spend the rest of their lives laying an egg almost every day. For these birds to thrive in new housing systems, they need to be calm, physically fit and able to learn how to adapt to complex environments, so Tina is developing strategies to help prepare these birds for their new homes. This project is funded by Egg Farmers of Canada and OMAFRA.
Influence of layer breeders on their daughters
All laying hens are descendants of breeder flocks. The breeder hen’s life experience, whether positive or negative, can affect the behaviour and stress susceptibility of her daughters through the hormones and nutrients she provides to them in her eggs. There are 27 million laying hens in Canada that are the offspring of only about 25,000 breeder hens, so these breeder hens have the potential to influence the behaviour and stress susceptibility of millions of layers. Tina is studying how the breeder hen’s life experience affects her chicks — the future laying hens. She is looking at different genetic strains of hens to find out if they are more or less susceptible to stress, and how that affects the behaviour and stress response of their young. At the Arkell Research Station, her team collects fertilized eggs and incubates, hatches and rears them identically so that the only variable is the experience of their parents. This project is funded by Egg Farmers of Canada, Canadian Poultry Research Council, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Poultry Industry Council, Lohmann Tierzucht, Hendrix Genetics, and LH Gray & Sons, Ltd.
Making chickens more sustainable
As a global source of animal protein, chicken eggs and meat are produced more efficiently than all other traditional animal proteins in terms of water consumption, energy requirements and land use. Significant improvements in genetic selection over the past 50 years have resulted in larger, leaner and more efficient meat chickens produced weeks earlier. However, these fast growth rates and high levels of production have come at a cost. Commercial strains of broiler chickens can have poor health and altered behaviour because their leg strength and cardiovascular function may not support their body weight. In Canada and worldwide, consumer preference is growing for poultry products that confer “higher animal welfare” and that are perceived to be safer and healthier for people, such as meat chickens that grow more slowly and are raised without antibiotics. Solutions are needed to resolve the disconnect between highly efficient production of poultry products and concerns about animal welfare and human health. Tina and research associate Stephanie Torrey are comparing behaviour, health and welfare indicators of slow and fast growing chickens and identifying implications for sustainability. This project is funded by Global Animal Partnership, OMFARA, CFREF and Food From Thought.
Graduate Student Information
Tina’s research is multidisciplinary, involving a range of experts, including veterinarians, physiologists, nutritionists, reproductive specialists and behavioural biologists who look at all aspects of animal health and welfare. Her graduate students are the workforce behind her research projects and in turn benefit from hands-on experience conducting research and developing transferable skills. She has a team of Ph.D., masters’ and undergraduate students working with her in the lab and in the field. Her students conduct a variety of research, including behavioural and physiological measurements and dissections. Tina enjoys bringing farmers and producers into her lab to meet her students so they can learn from each other. During visits from industry representatives, her students present their research projects and lead tours of the housing facilities at the Arkell Research Station. She emphasizes to her students the importance of being able to communicate their research not only to other scientists but to farmers who are the direct beneficiaries of their work.
- Widowski, T.M., L.J. Caston, M.E. Hunniford*, L. Cooley*, S. Torrey. 2017. Effect of space allowance and cage size on laying hens housed in furnished cages, Part I: Performance and well-being. Poultry Science, in press. http://dx.doi.org/10.3382/ps/pex197
- Casey-Trott*, T.M., D.R. Korver, M.T. Guerin, V. Sandilands, S. Torrey, T.M. Widowski. 2017.
- Opportunities for exercise during pullet rearing, Part II: Long-term effects on bone characteristics of adult laying hens at the end of lay. Poultry Science 96(8):2518-2527.
- Morrissey*, K.J.H., S. Brocklehurst, L. Baker, T. M. Widowski, and V. Sandilands. 2016. Can non-beak treated hens be kept in commercial furnished cages? Exploring the effects of strain and extra environmental enrichment on behaviour, feather cover and mortality. Animals 6(3):17.
- Hunniford*, M.E. and T.M. Widowski. 2017. Adding a wire partition to the scratch area affects nest use and nesting behaviour of laying hens in furnished cages. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 186:29-34.
- Petrik*, M.T., M.T. Guerin, and T.M. Widowski. 2015. On-fam comparison of keel fracture prevalence and other welfare indicators in conventional cage and floor-housed laying hens in Ontario, Canada. Poultry Science 94:579–585.