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Interactions between housing environment, chronic stress, and pathogenic infections in laying hens

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 11, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Eggs are an important staple food in our society, not only for direct sale to consumers, but also in a wide range of prepared foods and baked goods. There is a wide societal consensus that we want egg production to provide not only the highest possible welfare to the hens themselves, but also to provide sustainable, nutritious and safe food. For this reason, many producers now produce free range eggs. However, there are a great many variations in what constitutes a free range system and there can be conflicts between different design priorities.

We do not yet know how to obtain the highest possible welfare within a free range context. For example, compared to birds confined indoors, free range hens are exposed to more pathogens from wild birds. In this project, you will use newly-developed methods for assessing chronic stress in laying hens to determine which features of a free range housing system cause less stress to the birds. You will also investigate how these levels of chronic stress are related to potential infections with pathogens, such as Salmonella. Therefore you will receive a comprehensive training in a range of laboratory techniques, allowing you to pursue a future career in a variety of disciplines.

As a CASE studentship, this PhD also involves close collaboration with an industrial partner, namely The Lakes Free Range Egg Company, an award-winning producer of free range eggs. As part of your training, you will receive a detailed induction to the operation of an integrated food production business including planning, operations, marketing and distribution. Such training will give you a unique appreciation of the operation of a fast-moving consumer goods business, further enhancing your career options upon successful completion of your PhD.

You will become familiar with the operation of the company’s egg production database, and see at first-hand how data collected on farms supplying the Lakes and in the packing station is used in management decision making. With further statistical training, you will subsequently undertake an epidemiological analysis to explore long-term trends in animal performance, health and welfare using data collected from different free range farms over several years. In this way, you will help set the parameters for optimal high-welfare egg production in the future and so be part of innovation in the development of real-time control systems.

For further information see the website:

To apply

Please complete the online application form and attach a full CV and covering letter. Informal enquiries may be made to

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year BBSRC CASE studentship under the Newcastle-Liverpool-Durham DTP. The successful applicant will receive research costs, tuition fees and stipend (£14,777 for 2018-19). The PhD will start in October 2019. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. EU candidates must have been resident in the UK for 3 years in order to receive full support. There are 2 stages to the application process.


Robertson, B.-A., Rathbone, L., Cirillo, G., D’Eath, R.B., Bateson, M., Boswell, T., Wilson, P.W., Dunn, I.C. and Smulders, T.V. (2017) Food restriction reduces neurogenesis in the avian hippocampal formation. PLoS ONE 12(12): e0189158. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189158

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