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Animals 2017, 7(3), 21; doi:10.3390/ani7030021

Individual Ranging Behaviour Patterns in Commercial Free-Range Layers as Observed through RFID Tracking

1
Animal Welfare Science Centre, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia
2
School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, Camden, NSW 2570, Australia
3
Research Centre for Proper Housing: Poultry and Rabbits, Division of Animal Welfare, Veterinary Public Health Institute, University of Bern, 3052 Zollikofen, Switzerland
4
Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Marsfield, NSW 2109, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Clive J. C. Phillips
Received: 21 December 2016 / Revised: 27 February 2017 / Accepted: 6 March 2017 / Published: 9 March 2017
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Simple Summary

Understanding of how free-range laying hens on commercial farms utilize the outdoor space provided is limited. In order to optimise use of the range, it is important to understand whether hens vary in their ranging behaviour, both between and within individual hens. In our study, we used individual tracking technology to assess how hens in two commercial free-range flocks used the range and whether they varied in their use of the range. We assessed use of three areas at increasing distance from the shed; the veranda [0–2.4 m], close range [2.4–11.4 m], and far range [>11.4 m]. Most hens accessed the range every day (68.6% in Flock A, and 82.2% in Flock B), and most hens that ranged accessed all three areas (73.7% in Flock A, and 84.5% in Flock B). Hens spent half of their time outside in the veranda adjacent to the shed. We found that some hens within the flocks would range consistently (similar duration and frequency) daily, whereas others would range inconsistently. Hens that were more consistent in their ranging behaviour spent more time on the range overall than those that were inconsistent. These different patterns of range use should be taken into account to assess the implications of ranging for laying hens.

Abstract

In this exploratory study, we tracked free-range laying hens on two commercial flocks with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology with the aim to examine individual hen variation in range use. Three distinct outdoor zones were identified at increasing distances from the shed; the veranda [0–2.4 m], close range [2.4–11.4 m], and far range [>11.4 m]. Hens’ movements between these areas were tracked using radio frequency identification technology. Most of the hens in both flocks (68.6% in Flock A, and 82.2% in Flock B) accessed the range every day during the study. Of the hens that accessed the range, most hens accessed all three zones (73.7% in Flock A, and 84.5% in Flock B). Hens spent half of their time outdoors in the veranda area. Within-individual consistency of range use (daily duration and frequency) varied considerably, and hens which were more consistent in their daily range use spent more time on the range overall (p < 0.001). Understanding variation within and between individuals in ranging behaviour may help elucidate the implications of ranging for laying hens. View Full-Text
Keywords: free range; radio frequency identification; individual; variation; time budget; pasture; eggs; poultry free range; radio frequency identification; individual; variation; time budget; pasture; eggs; poultry
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Larsen, H.; Cronin, G.M.; Gebhardt-Henrich, S.G.; Smith, C.L.; Hemsworth, P.H.; Rault, J.-L. Individual Ranging Behaviour Patterns in Commercial Free-Range Layers as Observed through RFID Tracking. Animals 2017, 7, 21.

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