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Animals 2018, 8(11), 210;

Using Radio-Frequency Identification Technology to Measure Synchronised Ranging of Free-Range Laying Hens

Agriculture and Food, CSIRO, New England Highway, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia
School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia
Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, School of Land and Food, University of Tasmania, Launceston, TAS 7250, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 28 September 2018 / Revised: 22 October 2018 / Accepted: 13 November 2018 / Published: 16 November 2018
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Simple Summary

Free-range laying hens can choose to be indoors or outdoors. Individual hens vary in their ranging choice and this behaviour could also be affected by their flock mates. Radio-frequency identification tracking of individual hens in experimental free-range pens with group sizes of 46–50 hens was used to study flock ranging patterns. Across the day, hens moved through the range pop-holes in the same direction as other hens above levels expected by random chance, termed ‘pop-hole-following’. Hens were also simultaneously indoors or outdoors with other specific hens more often than expected by random chance, termed ‘hen-pair association’. Chicks that were provided variable stimulatory and structural enrichments from 4 to 21 days showed higher pop-hole-following and hen-pair association than non-enriched birds. The individual birds within these small hen groups were behaving primarily as a cohesive flock which has implications for understanding the group-level behaviour of hens. Further research would analyse if similar social movement patterns were present in larger commercial free-range flocks and how early rearing environments may affect adult social behaviour.


Free-range laying hen systems provide individuals a choice between indoor and outdoor areas where range use may be socially influenced. This study used radio-frequency identification technology to track the ranging of individually-tagged hens housed in six experimental free-range pens from 28 to 38 weeks of age (46–50 hens/pen). All daily visits to the range were used to study group behaviour. Results showed that 67.6% (SD = 5.0%) of all hen movements through the pop-holes outdoors or indoors were following the movement of another hen (‘pop-hole-following’) compared to only 50.5% of movements in simulated random data. The percentage overlap in time that all combinations of hen pairs within each pen spent simultaneously outdoors or indoors showed a median value of overlap greater than the 90th percentile of random data. Pens housing hens that had been provided variable enrichments from 4 to 21 days (n = 3 pens) showed higher ‘pop-hole-following’ behaviour and a higher percentage of hen-pair association compared to hens reared in non-enriched conditions (n = 3 pens). These results show that birds in each free-range pen were primarily a cohesive flock and early enrichment improved this social cohesiveness. These results have implications for understanding free-range flock-level behaviour. View Full-Text
Keywords: social patterns; cohesion; group dynamics; early enrichment; RFID; hen movement social patterns; cohesion; group dynamics; early enrichment; RFID; hen movement

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Campbell, D.L.; Horton, B.J.; Hinch, G.N. Using Radio-Frequency Identification Technology to Measure Synchronised Ranging of Free-Range Laying Hens. Animals 2018, 8, 210.

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