Effects of Environmental Enrichment and Beak-trimming During Rearing on Subsequent Feather-pecking in Laying Hens

Beak trimming performed on pullets during the rearing period appeared to be effective in reducing the expression of severe feather pecking during the laying period in this Australian study.
calendar icon 1 May 2015
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A recent study in Australia set out to investigate the effects of environmental enrichment and beak-trimming during the rearing period on behaviour in rearing and plumage damage later in life by laying hens.

In their paper in Poultry Science, lead author, Kate Hartcher of the University of Sydney and her co-authors there and at the universities of New England and Melbourne explain that the experimental treatments were applied in a 2×2 factorial arrangement. Half of the birds were beak-trimmed at one day of age using an infra-red laser. A follow-up light-trim was performed at 11 weeks of age with a hot blade.

Environmental enrichment consisted of pecking strings, whole oats in the litter and greater litter depth.

Sixteen pens of 50 ISA Brown laying hens were used. Four pullets were selected from each pen as focal birds and observed in their home pens between three and 14 weeks of age.

Plumage damage was scored at the end of the experiment in week 43.

It was observed that beak-trimmed birds performed less ground-pecking (P=0.003), less severe feather-pecking (P=0.021) and more gentle feather-pecking (P=0.018) than their non-trimmed counterparts during the rearing period.

These birds also exhibited less feather damage in week 43 (P<0.001).

The results indicate that gentle feather-pecking during rearing is not related to plumage damage when older.

Additionally, commented Hartcher and co-authors, higher rates of ground-pecking and severe feather-pecking during rearing may be predictive of plumage damage later in life.

There was no effect of enrichment on plumage damage, they added, and concluded that, while there was no effect on enrichment, beak-trimming appeared to be effective in reducing plumage damage in week 43.


Hartcher K.M., K.T.N. Tran, S.J. Wilkinson, P.H. Hemsworth, P.C. Thomson and G.M. Cronin. 2015. The effects of environmental enrichment and beak-trimming during the rearing period on subsequent feather damage due to feather-pecking in laying hens. Poultry Science. 94:852-859.

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May 2015

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