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Animals 2019, 9(4), 135; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9040135

An Investigation of Associations Between Management and Feather Damage in Canadian Laying Hens Housed in Furnished Cages

1
Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada
2
Department of Animal Biosciences, Ontario Agricultural College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 12 March 2019 / Revised: 25 March 2019 / Accepted: 27 March 2019 / Published: 31 March 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Poultry)
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PDF [252 KB, uploaded 31 March 2019]

Simple Summary

Feather damage due to feather pecking behaviour remains a serious welfare concern in flocks of egg-laying hens housed in large groups. A better understanding of the farm factors that contribute to feather damage is needed, especially as Canadian egg farming transitions away from conventional cage housing systems and into alternative, larger group systems. This study aimed to explore bird, housing, and management associations with feather damage in Canadian laying hens housed in furnished cage systems. Twenty-six laying hen farms housing birds in furnished cages were surveyed across the country, along with the scoring of feather condition of 50 hens from each flock. Factors found to have an influence on greater feather damage seen in flocks included increasing age, having all brown-feathered hens, the practice of midnight feeding, and hens not having access to a scratching area or additional foraging material. These results support existing evidence that feather damage is the result of multiple factors, with genetics and foraging opportunity being some of the most important. Further research is needed to test the effectiveness of related intervention strategies.

Abstract

Feather pecking is a continuous welfare challenge in the housing of egg-laying hens. Canada is currently making the transition from conventional cages to alternative housing systems. However, feather damage (FD) among laying hens due to feather pecking remains a welfare concern. An explorative approach was taken to assess bird, housing, and management associations with FD in Canadian laying hens housed in alternative systems. A questionnaire focused on housing and management practices was administered to 122 laying farms across Canada in autumn of 2017 (response rate of 52.5%), yielding information on a subset of 26 flocks housed in furnished cages. Additionally, a three-point feather cover scoring system was developed to estimate the prevalence of FD. Farmers assessed FD by sampling 50 birds per flock. Linear regression modeling was applied to explain FD as a function of 6 variables (out of an available 54). Of the 6 modeled variables, “increased age”, “brown feather colour”, “midnight feeding”, and “no scratch area” were associated with higher levels of FD at farm level (R2 = 0.77). The results indicated that FD resulting from feather pecking is a multifactorial problem, and supported existing evidence that FD increases as birds age. These results also suggested that “feather colour”, “midnight feeding”, and “access to (or lack of) a scratch area or additional substrate” play a role in FD prevalence in furnished cages. View Full-Text
Keywords: chickens; feather pecking; furnished cage; welfare chickens; feather pecking; furnished cage; welfare
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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Decina, C.; Berke, O.; van Staaveren, N.; Baes, C.F.; Widowski, T.M.; Harlander-Matauschek, A. An Investigation of Associations Between Management and Feather Damage in Canadian Laying Hens Housed in Furnished Cages. Animals 2019, 9, 135.

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