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Animals 2018, 8(11), 210; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani8110210

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

1
Agriculture and Food, CSIRO, New England Highway, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia
2
School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia
3
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.

Abstract

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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