Development of a Scoring System to Assess Feather Damage in Canadian Laying Hen Flocks
Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada
Department of Animal Biosciences, Ontario Agricultural College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 28 May 2019 / Revised: 4 July 2019 / Accepted: 7 July 2019 / Published: 10 July 2019
Feather damage is a continuous welfare challenge in the management of egg-laying hens. Canada is currently transitioning from conventional cages to alternative housing systems, where the risk of feather damage may increase due to larger group sizes. This change increases the need for continued and reliable assessment of flock feather condition, for which Canada does not have a standard method. Within this study, a feather damage scoring system and visual scoring guide were developed, with the ultimate goal of streamlining and increasing plumage assessment of laying flocks by farmers on Canadian commercial farms. Two differing feather scoring systems (LayWel and AssureWel) were compared based on user-friendliness and reliability. The AssureWel scoring system was easiest to use and achieved the most consistent outcomes among scorers for the back area of the body. This informed the design of a modified version with scoring levels from 0 to 2 for a sample of 50 birds per flock, along with an informational, visual guide for farmers. Training of farmers to use this simplified scoring system under commercial conditions can provide a benchmarking tool for feather damage levels, as well as a way to measure the success of management strategies to prevent and control feather damage.