Effect of Range Enrichment on Performance, Behaviour and Forage Intake of Free-range Chickens07 July 2014
Although there was no difference in bird performance, range enrichment in the form of olive trees was found to be beneficial for poultry in this experiment in Italy. Mortality was lower and the birds ranged further, ate more forage and had fewer injuries in the area with trees than those in a grass paddock.
The aim of the present study was to analyse the effect of range enrichment (trees or tall grass stand) on the performance and herbage intake of free-range chicken, according to Alessandro Dal Bosco from the University of Perugia in Italy and co-authors there and at the University of Teramo and the olive research centre in Spoleto.
In a paper in Journal of Applied Poultry Research, they explain that the trial was conducted in two different seasons (winter and summer) and compared a standard free-range system with two types of range enrichment: a stand of sorghum (a tall grass) and olive trees.
A total of 250 male naked-neck chickens were used in each season and system; performance, behaviour, forage intake and body lesions were recorded.
Productive performance was not affected by range enrichment.
However, in the presence of trees or tall grass stand, no predation losses were experienced; whereas, in the standard paddock, cases of predation by raptors or crows were registered, mainly during the first period of rearing. Consequently, mortality rate was significantly lower in the enriched environment.
Control chickens stayed indoors more rather than forage in the pasture, whereas, in enriched environments, birds spent more time outdoors and widely exploited the available pasture.
Forage intake was significantly influenced by rearing system and season; chickens reared under olive trees had higher herbage ingestion, exploring the available area up to almost 50 metres from the house. With the olive trees, chickens also showed the lowest frequency of foot and breast damage.
Dal Bosco A., C. Mugnai, A. Rosati, A. Paoletti, S. Caporali and C. Castellini. 2014. Effect of range enrichment on performance, behavior, and forage intake of free-range chickens. J. Appl. Poult. Res. 23:137-145. doi: 10.3382/japr.2013-00814
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