Individual Ranging Behaviour Patterns in Commercial Free-Range Layers as Observed through RFID Tracking
Animal Welfare Science Centre, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia
School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, Camden, NSW 2570, Australia
Research Centre for Proper Housing: Poultry and Rabbits, Division of Animal Welfare, Veterinary Public Health Institute, University of Bern, 3052 Zollikofen, Switzerland
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
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.