Supervisor:   Prof Christine NicolProf Kristien Verheyen and Dr Siobhan Abeyesinghe

Department:  Pathobiology and Population Sciences


Project Details

We seek applicants passionate about animal welfare epidemiology for a fully funded MRes project incorporating a unique opportunity to work in collaboration with industry.



Half of the meat eaten in the UK comes from poultry, with nearly 1 billion broiler chickens produced per annum. The UK industry is proud of its record in food safety, employment, efficient protein production and regional gross added value. Over 90% of UK broiler producers are represented by the British Poultry Council trade association (BPC). The BPC established a Poultry Health and Welfare Group in 2013 and remains aware of societal concerns around the welfare of birds used for meat production. For this reason, in a unique collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), the BPC wishes to establish an objective view about current bird welfare and factors influencing this, using data currently collected by mandate on farms and at abattoirs across the UK. This information will provide the basis for strategic decisions about how best to balance bird welfare considerations with production and sustainability demands.

Aim: To quantitatively establish the current state of broiler chicken welfare in the UK and to perform initial exploratory analysis relating exposures of interest to adverse welfare outcomes.



Anonymised retrospective data from all BPC member company farms over four seasons in 2019/2020 will be made available for analysis. This will comprise information on an estimated 15-16 million birds in each of the seasons, which will be representative of the ca. 900,000,000 birds processed annually. The data will include relevant exposure factors such as breed, stocking density and housing type and associated welfare-relevant indicators such as growth and mortality data. The objectives of the project will be:

  1. To establish a descriptive picture of UK broiler flocks, their housing and management;
  2. To establish associations between management-related exposure variables;
  3. To provide descriptive statistics of the bird welfare indicators;
  4. To perform analyses to establish associations between exposures and outcomes of interest, based on current knowledge about factors affecting broiler bird welfare;
  5. To present a report summarising the current state of broiler chicken welfare in the UK.


Project and Training Outcomes

The RVC MRes programme incorporates structured skills development and training to underpin and develop you as a researcher scientist. The student will be assisted to compare the results obtained against the Better Chicken commitment standards and to consider the policy implications of the work. The student will develop quantitative data analysis skills whilst gaining a unique insight into broiler chicken welfare. The initial exploratory analysis undertaken during the MRes will be used to generate hypotheses to be tested using multivariable, multi-level regression modelling to inform strategic decisions on broiler chicken welfare.


  1. Nicol, C. J., Bouwsema, J., Caplen, G., Davies, A. C., Hockenhull, J., Lambton, S. L., ... & Weeks, C. A. (2017). Farmed Bird Welfare Science Review. Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.

  2. De Jong, I., Berg, C., Butterworth, A., & Estevéz, I. (2012). Scientific report updating the EFSA opinions on the welfare of broilers and broiler breeders. EFSA Supporting Publications, 9(6), 295E.

  3. Bassler, A. W., Arnould, C., Butterworth, A., Colin, L., De Jong, I. C., Ferrante, V., ... & Blokhuis, H. J. (2013). Potential risk factors associated with contact dermatitis, lameness, negative emotional state, and fear of humans in broiler chicken flocks. Poultry Science, 92(11), 2811-2826.



Applicants should have a first or upper second class university honours degree in biological sciences, a veterinary or medical or other relevant degree (e.g. biomedical statistics).

A keen interest in epidemiology and animal welfare science is highly desirable, as are existing skills in, or an aptitude for, quantitative data analysis. Practical experience of using statistical software packages will be advantageous.

This project can be taken only as a full-time (12 months FTE) project commencing in October 2020, based at RVC's Hawkshead campus.



This MRes project is fully funded including project costs, course fees for Home/EU students and living expenses.

Overseas candidates are welcome to apply but must be able to meet the difference between Home/EU and overseas tuition fees.


We welcome informal enquiries - these should be directed to Christine Nicol on 


How to Apply

For more information on the application process and English Language requirements see How to Apply.

Deadline: 25/05/2020

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