Chickens viewing virtual reality scenes. (Melha-Mellata photo)

An Iowa State University researcher’s pilot study shows chickens who view virtual reality scenes might be healthier. Associate professor, Melha Mellata says she knew of studies that showed viewing certain things calmed humans, and decided to see if it worked with chickens by showing them scenes of free-range animals.

“We measured the immunity in the blood, we measure the microbiota. There are compounds of the body that are usually involved in fighting infectious disease,” she says. She says they had a control group and the group of chickens which watched the virtual reality scenes. She says the blood of those exposed to virtual reality could kill bacteria more than the blood from the chickens not exposed to the virtual reality — which let them know there’s something in the blood that was stimulated to fight infectious disease.

They also tested the microbiota in the gut that helps to digest food and also fight infections. “We did see some impact, we did see some changes. So it’s possible to use virtual reality, to trigger chemical changes in to help fight infection,” she says. The virtual reality video also showed the chicken’s behavior where the other chickens were not pecking each other.
“We were hoping when we show them positive behavior, they will mimic this positive behavior, reduce aggressivity in chickens, which is a big problem in the commercial poultry farm,” Mellata says.

She says there were positive results there, and that combined with the changes in the ability to fight disease is a big plus.
“It will reduce infection, reducing the stress will increase productivity, and it will improve the welfare of animals in general,” she says.

Mellata says they are now trying to raise more funding to continue the study and try to build on what they have already found.