Hen Housing Should Allow Natural Foraging Behaviour

GLOBAL - As the result of recently published research, poultry experts from the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and the University of Guelph have called for the development of poultry housing that allows for natural foraging behaviour.
calendar icon 4 November 2010
clock icon 3 minute read

The results of a study by poultry experts at the Scottish Agricultural College and the University of Guelph, Canada, into the reduction of feather pecking in laying hens have been published in Animal Welfare, the journal of the UK-based Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), with the conclusion that poultry housing that allows for natural foraging behaviour should be developed.

Feather pecking, and in extreme cases the cannibalism that can result, is a serious welfare and economic problem in laying hens, conventionally addressed by beak trimming. Beak trimming, involving removal of part of the hen’s beak to make feather pecking more difficult, is, however, itself regarded by many as a serious welfare issue. While it is widely thought that feather pecking stems from re-directed foraging motivation, other types of enrichment such as dust-baths and novel objects have also been shown to reduce feather pecking.

In this study, Laura Dixon of the Avian Science Research Centre at the Scottish Agricultural College, Ian Duncan and Georgia Mason of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science, University of Guelph, examined these different possibilities to compare effectiveness and to inform development of a practical and effective enrichment that could be adopted to reduce feather pecking as a more appropriate practice than beak trimming.

Groups of chickens known to feather peck were provided with the different enrichments, and no enrichment, in regimes designed to eliminate extraneous effects. It was found that feather pecking levels were highest when no enrichment was provided and lowest when forages were provided, with dust-baths and novel objects in between. The findings, say the authors, support the hypothesis that feather pecking stems from re-directed foraging behaviour and confirms the importance of providing birds with forages. They suggest that it also encourages future research to determine practical and inexpensive forage substrates, perhaps straw/hay or bunches of string, for use in poultry housing.

Details of the study, and other Animal Welfare papers, can be accessed at the UFAW web site (abstracts free, full papers free to Animal Welfare subscribers). The Animal Welfare journal is published quarterly by UFAW, an independent scientific and educational animal welfare charity. Subscription information is available at the web site or contact UFAW (email [email protected]).

Further Reading

- You can view the full report (fee payable) by clicking here.
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