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Animals 2019, 9(2), 43; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9020043

Feather Pecking and Cannibalism in Non-Beak-Trimmed Laying Hen Flocks—Farmers’ Perspectives

Research centre for animal welfare, Department of Production Animal Medicine, University of Helsinki, 00014 Helsinki, Finland
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Received: 2 January 2019 / Revised: 23 January 2019 / Accepted: 29 January 2019 / Published: 30 January 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Poultry Production Systems)
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Simple Summary

Pecking-related problems are common in intensive egg production, diminishing hen welfare and production performance, and negatively affecting sustainability. Beak trimming is a common practice to control these problems, but in Finland beak trimming is prohibited. Finnish egg producers have decades-long experience of egg production with intact-beaked hens. This experience, and their management of pecking-related problems, could benefit producers in other countries. The online questionnaire aimed to gather information about Finnish farmers’ attitudes towards beak trimming, their estimation of the seriousness of pecking problems in their laying hen flocks, common risk factors and the best practices to prevent attendant problems. The questionnaire received 35 responses. Finnish egg producers appeared strongly to support a policy of not trimming beaks. Motivation against beak trimming was explained by considering it to be unnecessary and unethical. Most respondents did not regard pecking-related problems as being very severe in their flocks. Lighting, feeding and flock management problems represented the most important risk factors regarding pecking problems. Generally, the same topics were highlighted as being the most important intervention measures for managing an on-going pecking problem. The study indicates that it is possible to incorporate a non-beak-trimming policy as a component of sustainable egg production.

Abstract

Pecking-related problems are common in intensive egg production, compromising hen welfare, causing farmers economic losses and negatively affecting sustainability. These problems are often controlled by beak trimming, which in Finland is prohibited. An online questionnaire aimed to collect information from farmers about pecking-related problems in Finnish laying hen flocks, important risk factors and the best experiences to prevent the problems. Additionally, the farmers’ attitudes towards beak trimming were examined. We received 35 responses, which represents about 13% of all Finnish laying hen farms with ≥300 laying hens. The majority of respondents stated that a maximum of 5–7% incidence of feather pecking or 1–2% incidence of cannibalism would be tolerable. The majority of respondents (74%) expressed that they would definitely not use beak-trimmed hens. Only two respondents indicated that they would probably use beak-trimmed hens were the practice permitted. Among risk factors, light intensity earned the highest mean (6.3), on a scale from 1 (not important) to 7 (extremely important). Other important problems included those that occurred during rearing, feeding, flock management and problems with drinking water equipment (mean 5.9, each). The most important intervention measures included optimal lighting and feeding, flock management, and removing the pecker and victim. Concluding, Finnish farmers had strong negative attitudes towards beak trimming. The study underlines the importance of flock management, especially lighting and feeding, in preventing pecking problems and indicates that it is possible to incorporate a non-beak-trimming policy into sustainable egg production. View Full-Text
Keywords: laying hen; egg production; beak trimming; pecking problem; feather pecking; cannibalism; farmers’ attitudes; sustainability laying hen; egg production; beak trimming; pecking problem; feather pecking; cannibalism; farmers’ attitudes; sustainability
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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Kaukonen, E.; Valros, A. Feather Pecking and Cannibalism in Non-Beak-Trimmed Laying Hen Flocks—Farmers’ Perspectives. Animals 2019, 9, 43.

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