Special Issue "Poultry Welfare"

A special issue of Animals (ISSN 2076-2615). This special issue belongs to the section "Poultry".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2016)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Christine Nicol

School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS40 5DU, UK
Website | E-Mail
Interests: welfare indicators, animal choice, animal cognition, chicken welfare
Guest Editor
Prof. Bas Rodenburg

Department of Animals in Science and Society, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Website | E-Mail
Interests: Social behavior; Maladaptive behavior; Poultry welfare; Social Networks; Animal Personality; Behavioural Development; Maternal effects; Behaviour genetics; Early-life conditions

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

There has been a dramatic rise in worldwide consumption of poultry and poultry products in the past 50 years, and there are currently around 22 billion chickens, 1.3 billion ducks and nearly 400 million geese in the world. Breeding policies directed primarily towards increased meat and egg production have been pursued with great success, but at some cost to the birds. Problems with leg health, skeletal strength and disease resistance all need solutions. Rearing, housing and slaughter practices also have profound welfare implications. Great advances have been made in scientific assessment of poultry welfare, and new indicators and technologies are now available to establish the extent of current problems. Scientists are also working with the industry and consumers to develop policies and practices that protect birds’ physical health and allow for the expression of behavioural needs. Poultry welfare is now a topic of global interest and it is timely to track progress as solutions to welfare problems are proposed and tested.

Original manuscripts that address any aspects of poultry welfare are invited for this special issue. Topics of special interest are the validation of welfare indicators for poultry, emerging welfare issues, the role of genetics and early experience on later welfare, the optimal design of housing and management practices to protect health and allow for behavioural needs, and methods of humane (emergency) slaughter.

Prof. Dr. Christine Nicol
Dr. T. Bas Rodenburg
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • animal welfare
  • laying hen
  • broiler
  • duck
  • welfare indicator
  • lameness
  • fracture
  • disease
  • behavioural needs
  • humane slaughter
  • feather pecking
  • genetic selection

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Research

Jump to: Review

Open AccessArticle
Ranging Behaviour of Commercial Free-Range Laying Hens
Animals 2016, 6(5), 28; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6050028
Received: 31 January 2016 / Revised: 2 April 2016 / Accepted: 6 April 2016 / Published: 26 April 2016
Cited by 8 | PDF Full-text (840 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In this study, the range use and behaviour of laying hens in commercial free-range flocks was explored. Six flocks were each visited on four separate days and data collected from their outdoor area (divided into zones based on distance from shed and available [...] Read more.
In this study, the range use and behaviour of laying hens in commercial free-range flocks was explored. Six flocks were each visited on four separate days and data collected from their outdoor area (divided into zones based on distance from shed and available resources). These were: apron (0–10 m from shed normally without cover or other enrichments); enriched belt (10–50 m from shed where resources such as manmade cover, saplings and dust baths were provided); and outer range (beyond 50 m from shed with no cover and mainly grass pasture). Data collection consisted of counting the number of hens in each zone and recording behaviour, feather condition and nearest neighbour distance (NND) of 20 birds per zone on each visit day. In addition, we used techniques derived from ecological surveys to establish four transects perpendicular to the shed, running through the apron, enriched belt and outer range. Number of hens in each 10 m × 10 m quadrat was recorded four times per day as was the temperature and relative humidity of the outer range. On average, 12.5% of hens were found outside. Of these, 5.4% were found in the apron; 4.3% in the enriched zone; and 2.8% were in the outer range. This pattern was supported by data from quadrats, where the density of hens sharply dropped with increasing distance from shed. Consequently, NND was greatest in the outer range, least in the apron and intermediate in the enriched belt. Hens sampled in outer range and enriched belts had better feather condition than those from the apron. Standing, ground pecking, walking and foraging were the most commonly recorded activities with standing and pecking most likely to occur in the apron, and walking and foraging more common in the outer range. Use of the outer range declined with lower temperatures and increasing relative humidity, though use of apron and enriched belt was not affected by variation in these measures. These data support previous findings that outer range areas tend to be under-utilized in commercial free-range flocks and suggest positive relationships between range use, feather condition and increased behavioural opportunities and decline in the use of range in cold and/or damp conditions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
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Open AccessArticle
Basing Turkey Lighting Programs on Broiler Research: A Good Idea? A Comparison of 18 Daylength Effects on Broiler and Turkey Welfare
Animals 2016, 6(5), 27; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6050027
Received: 22 February 2016 / Revised: 15 April 2016 / Accepted: 18 April 2016 / Published: 25 April 2016
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (2808 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Daylength used as a management tool has powerful implications on the welfare of both broilers and turkeys. Near-constant light results in many detrimental impacts, including lack of behavioural rhythms and circadian melatonin rhythms. Both are suggestive that sleep fragmentation could result in birds [...] Read more.
Daylength used as a management tool has powerful implications on the welfare of both broilers and turkeys. Near-constant light results in many detrimental impacts, including lack of behavioural rhythms and circadian melatonin rhythms. Both are suggestive that sleep fragmentation could result in birds reared on long photoperiods, which can lead to the same negative health and physiological responses as total sleep deprivation. An indirect comparison of the welfare implications of graded levels of daylength on broilers and turkeys clearly indicate that long daylengths depress welfare by increasing mortality, reducing mobility, increasing ocular pathologies and changing behaviour in both species. Furthermore, long daylengths change melatonin secretion patterns and eliminate behavioural and melatonin circadian rhythms, which were measured in broilers in these works. However, feather pecking in turkeys was reduced when birds were exposed to long daylengths. Exactly how much darkness should be included in a management program to maximize welfare will depend on the species, the age of marketing, and in turkeys, bird gender. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
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Open AccessArticle
Effects of Dark Brooders on Behavior and Fearfulness in Layers
Animals 2016, 6(1), 3; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6010003
Received: 29 November 2015 / Revised: 22 December 2015 / Accepted: 30 December 2015 / Published: 7 January 2016
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (912 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Chicks require heat to maintain body temperature during the first weeks after hatch. This may be provided by dark brooders; i.e. , horizontal heating elements equipped with curtains. The objective was to test effects of rearing layer chicks with dark brooders on time [...] Read more.
Chicks require heat to maintain body temperature during the first weeks after hatch. This may be provided by dark brooders; i.e. , horizontal heating elements equipped with curtains. The objective was to test effects of rearing layer chicks with dark brooders on time budget and fearfulness. Behavioral observations were performed during the first six weeks of age. Three different fear tests were conducted when the birds were age 3–6, 14–15 and 26–28 weeks. During the first four days, brooder chicks rested more than control chicks whereas they spent less time drinking, feather pecking and on locomotion ( p ≤ 0.009). On days 16, 23, 30 and 42, brooder chicks spent less time on feather pecking, locomotion and fleeing ( p ≤ 0.01) whereas foraging and dust bathing occurred more often on day 42 ( p ≤ 0.032). Brooder birds had shorter durations of tonic immobility at all ages ( p = 0.0032), moved closer to the novel object at age 15 weeks ( p < 0.0001), and had shorter latencies to initiate locomotion in the open-field test at age 28 weeks ( p < 0.0001). Results support the suggestion that dark brooders can be a successful method of reducing or preventing fear and feather pecking in layers. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
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Open AccessArticle
Opinion of Belgian Egg Farmers on Hen Welfare and Its Relationship with Housing Type
Animals 2016, 6(1), 1; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6010001
Received: 27 November 2015 / Revised: 16 December 2015 / Accepted: 16 December 2015 / Published: 22 December 2015
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (679 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
As of 2012, the EU has banned the use of conventional cages (CC) for laying hens, causing a shift in housing systems. This study’s aim was to gain insight into farmers’ opinions on hen health and welfare in their current housing systems. A [...] Read more.
As of 2012, the EU has banned the use of conventional cages (CC) for laying hens, causing a shift in housing systems. This study’s aim was to gain insight into farmers’ opinions on hen health and welfare in their current housing systems. A survey was sent to 218 Belgian egg farmers, of which 127 (58.3%) responded, with 84 still active as egg farmer. Hen welfare tended to be less important in choosing the housing system for farmers with cage than with non-cage systems. Respondents currently using cage systems were more satisfied with hen health than respondents with non-cage systems. Reported mortality increased with farm size and was higher in furnished cages than in floor housing. Feather pecking, cannibalism, smothering and mortality were perceived to be higher in current housing systems than in CC, but only by respondents who shifted to non-cage systems from previously having had CC. Health- and production-related parameters were scored to be more important for hen welfare as compared to behavior-related parameters. Those without CC in the past rated factors relating to natural behavior to be more important for welfare than those with CC. This difference in opinion based on farmer backgrounds should be taken into account in future research. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
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Open AccessArticle
Artificially Increased Yolk Hormone Levels and Neophobia in Domestic Chicks
Animals 2015, 5(4), 1220-1232; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani5040408
Received: 14 October 2015 / Revised: 20 November 2015 / Accepted: 20 November 2015 / Published: 30 November 2015
Cited by 8 | PDF Full-text (279 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In birds there is compelling evidence that the development and expression of behavior is affected by maternal factors, particularly via variation in yolk hormone concentrations of maternal origin. In the present study we tested whether variation in yolk hormone levels lead to variation [...] Read more.
In birds there is compelling evidence that the development and expression of behavior is affected by maternal factors, particularly via variation in yolk hormone concentrations of maternal origin. In the present study we tested whether variation in yolk hormone levels lead to variation in the expression of neophobia in young domestic chicks. Understanding how the prenatal environment could predispose chicks to express fear-related behaviors is essential in order to propose preventive actions and improve animal welfare. We simulated the consequences of a maternal stress by experimentally enhancing yolk progesterone, testosterone and estradiol concentrations in hen eggs prior to incubation. The chicks from these hormone-treated eggs (H) and from sham embryos (C) that received the vehicle-only were exposed to novel food, novel object and novel environment tests. H chicks approached a novel object significantly faster and were significantly more active in a novel environment than controls, suggesting less fearfulness. Conversely, no effect of the treatment was found in food neophobia tests. Our study highlights a developmental influence of yolk hormones on a specific aspect of neophobia. The results suggest that increased yolk hormone levels modulate specifically the probability of exploring novel environments or novel objects in the environment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
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Open AccessArticle
Early Onset of Laying and Bumblefoot Favor Keel Bone Fractures
Animals 2015, 5(4), 1192-1206; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani5040406
Received: 12 October 2015 / Revised: 17 November 2015 / Accepted: 18 November 2015 / Published: 27 November 2015
Cited by 10 | PDF Full-text (919 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Numerous studies have demonstrated influences of hybrid, feed, and housing on prevalence of keel bone fractures, but influences of behavior and production on an individual level are less known. In this longitudinal study, 80 white and brown laying hens were regularly checked for [...] Read more.
Numerous studies have demonstrated influences of hybrid, feed, and housing on prevalence of keel bone fractures, but influences of behavior and production on an individual level are less known. In this longitudinal study, 80 white and brown laying hens were regularly checked for keel bone deviations and fractures while egg production was individually monitored using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) from production until depopulation at 65 weeks of age. These focal birds were kept in eight pens with 20 hens per pen in total. About 62% of the hens had broken keel bones at depopulation. The occurrence of new fractures was temporally linked to egg laying: more new fractures occurred during the time when laying rates were highest. Hens with fractured keel bones at depopulation had laid their first egg earlier than hens with intact keel bones. However, the total number of eggs was neither correlated with the onset of egg laying nor with keel bone fractures. All birds with bumblefoot on both feet had a fracture at depopulation. Hens stayed in the nest for a longer time during egg laying during the ten days after the fracture than during the ten days before the fracture. In conclusion, a relationship between laying rates and keel bone fractures seems likely. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
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Review

Jump to: Research

Open AccessFeature PaperReview
Technology and Poultry Welfare
Animals 2016, 6(10), 62; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6100062
Received: 4 July 2016 / Revised: 13 September 2016 / Accepted: 27 September 2016 / Published: 11 October 2016
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (891 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Consideration of animal welfare is essential to address the consumers’ demands and for the long term sustainability of commercial poultry. However, assessing welfare in large poultry flocks, to be able to detect potential welfare risks and to control or minimize its impact is [...] Read more.
Consideration of animal welfare is essential to address the consumers’ demands and for the long term sustainability of commercial poultry. However, assessing welfare in large poultry flocks, to be able to detect potential welfare risks and to control or minimize its impact is difficult. Current developments in technology and mathematical modelling open new possibilities for real-time automatic monitoring of animal welfare and health. New technological innovations potentially adaptable to commercial poultry are appearing, although their practical implementation is still being defined. In this paper, we review the latest technological developments with potential to be applied to poultry welfare, especially for broiler chickens and laying hens. Some of the examples that are presented and discussed include the following: sensors for farm environmental monitoring, movement, or physiological parameters; imaging technologies such as optical flow to detect gait problems and feather pecking; infrared technologies to evaluate birds’ thermoregulatory features and metabolism changes, that may be indicative of welfare, health and management problems. All these technologies have the potential to be implemented at the commercial level to improve birds’ welfare and to optimize flock management, therefore, improving the efficiency of the system in terms of use of resources and, thus, long term sustainability. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
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Open AccessReview
Assessing Activity and Location of Individual Laying Hens in Large Groups Using Modern Technology
Animals 2016, 6(2), 10; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6020010
Received: 21 December 2015 / Revised: 19 January 2016 / Accepted: 27 January 2016 / Published: 2 February 2016
Cited by 16 | PDF Full-text (2149 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Tracking individual animals within large groups is increasingly possible, offering an exciting opportunity to researchers. Whereas previously only relatively indistinguishable groups of individual animals could be observed and combined into pen level data, we can now focus on individual actors within these large [...] Read more.
Tracking individual animals within large groups is increasingly possible, offering an exciting opportunity to researchers. Whereas previously only relatively indistinguishable groups of individual animals could be observed and combined into pen level data, we can now focus on individual actors within these large groups and track their activities across time and space with minimal intervention and disturbance. The development is particularly relevant to the poultry industry as, due to a shift away from battery cages, flock sizes are increasingly becoming larger and environments more complex. Many efforts have been made to track individual bird behavior and activity in large groups using a variety of methodologies with variable success. Of the technologies in use, each has associated benefits and detriments, which can make the approach more or less suitable for certain environments and experiments. Within this article, we have divided several tracking systems that are currently available into two major categories (radio frequency identification and radio signal strength) and review the strengths and weaknesses of each, as well as environments or conditions for which they may be most suitable. We also describe related topics including types of analysis for the data and concerns with selecting focal birds. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
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Open AccessReview
Influences of Maternal Care on Chicken Welfare
Animals 2016, 6(1), 2; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6010002
Received: 27 November 2015 / Revised: 22 December 2015 / Accepted: 30 December 2015 / Published: 5 January 2016
Cited by 5 | PDF Full-text (405 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In domestic chickens, the provision of maternal care strongly influences the behavioural development of chicks. Mother hens play an important role in directing their chicks’ behaviour and are able to buffer their chicks’ response to stressors. Chicks imprint upon their mother, who is [...] Read more.
In domestic chickens, the provision of maternal care strongly influences the behavioural development of chicks. Mother hens play an important role in directing their chicks’ behaviour and are able to buffer their chicks’ response to stressors. Chicks imprint upon their mother, who is key in directing the chicks’ behaviour and in allowing them to develop food preferences. Chicks reared by a mother hen are less fearful and show higher levels of behavioural synchronisation than chicks reared artificially. In a commercial setting, more fearful chicks with unsynchronised behaviour are more likely to develop behavioural problems, such as feather pecking. As well as being an inherent welfare problem, fear can also lead to panic responses, smothering, and fractured bones. Despite the beneficial effects of brooding, it is not commercially viable to allow natural brooding on farms and so chicks are hatched in large incubators and reared artificially, without a mother hen. In this review we cover the literature demonstrating the important features of maternal care in domestic chickens, the behavioural consequences of deprivation and the welfare implications on commercial farms. We finish by suggesting ways to use research in natural maternal care to improve commercial chick rearing practice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
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Open AccessReview
Air Quality in Alternative Housing Systems may have an Impact on Laying Hen Welfare. Part II—Ammonia
Animals 2015, 5(3), 886-896; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani5030389
Received: 7 April 2015 / Revised: 26 August 2015 / Accepted: 1 September 2015 / Published: 3 September 2015
Cited by 16 | PDF Full-text (114 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The EU ban on conventional barren cages for laying hens from 2012 has improved many aspects of laying hen welfare. The new housing systems allow for the expression of highly-motivated behaviors. However, the systems available for intensive large-scale egg production (e.g., aviaries, floor [...] Read more.
The EU ban on conventional barren cages for laying hens from 2012 has improved many aspects of laying hen welfare. The new housing systems allow for the expression of highly-motivated behaviors. However, the systems available for intensive large-scale egg production (e.g., aviaries, floor housing systems, furnished cages) may cause other welfare challenges. We have reviewed the literature regarding the health, behavior, production characteristics, and welfare of laying hens when exposed to ammonia in their housing environment. Concentrations of ammonia gas are commonly high in aviaries and floor housing systems in which manure is not regularly removed, whereas they are usually lower in furnished cages. High levels are found during the cold season when ventilation flow is often reduced. Ammonia is a pungent gas, and behavioral studies indicate chickens are averse to the gas. High concentrations of gaseous ammonia can have adverse health effects and, when very high, even influence production performance. The most profound effects seen are the occurrence of lesions in the respiratory tract and keratoconjunctivitis. There is also evidence that high ammonia concentrations predispose poultry to respiratory disease and secondary infections. We conclude that there are animal welfare challenges related to high ammonia levels, and that immediate actions are needed. Development of improved systems and management routines for manure removal and ventilation will be important for the reduction of ammonia levels and hence will contribute to safeguarding hen welfare. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
Open AccessReview
Air Quality in Alternative Housing Systems May Have an Impact on Laying Hen Welfare. Part I—Dust
Animals 2015, 5(3), 495-511; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani5030368
Received: 31 March 2015 / Revised: 19 June 2015 / Accepted: 23 June 2015 / Published: 9 July 2015
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (169 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The new legislation for laying hens in the European Union put a ban on conventional cages. Production systems must now provide the hens with access to a nest, a perch, and material for dust bathing. These requirements will improve the behavioral aspects of [...] Read more.
The new legislation for laying hens in the European Union put a ban on conventional cages. Production systems must now provide the hens with access to a nest, a perch, and material for dust bathing. These requirements will improve the behavioral aspects of animal welfare. However, when hens are kept with access to litter, it is a concern that polluted air may become an increased threat to health and therefore also a welfare problem. This article reviews the literature regarding the health and welfare effects birds experience when exposed to barn dust. Dust is composed of inorganic and organic compounds, from the birds themselves as well as from feed, litter, and building materials. Dust may be a vector for microorganisms and toxins. In general, studies indicate that housing systems where laying hens have access to litter as aviaries and floor systems consistently have higher concentrations of suspended dust than caged hens with little (furnished cages) or no access to litter (conventional cages). The higher dust levels in aviaries and floor housing are also caused by increased bird activity in the non-cage systems. There are gaps in both the basic and applied knowledge of how birds react to dust and aerosol contaminants, i.e., what levels they find aversive and/or impair health. Nevertheless, high dust levels may compromise the health and welfare of both birds and their caretakers and the poor air quality often found in new poultry housing systems needs to be addressed. It is necessary to develop prophylactic measures and to refine the production systems in order to achieve the full welfare benefits of the cage ban. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Poultry Welfare)
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