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Bestman, M.W.P., P. Koene and J. Wagenaar. 2009. Influence of farm factors on the occurrence of feather pecking in organic reared hens and their predictability for feather pecking in the laying period. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 121:120-125.

Number of pages: 6

Type of document: Journal Article

More information on authors/freelancers connected to LBI :
Monique W. P. Bestman MSc.;
Jan-Paul Wagenaar MSc.

Language of document: English

Title in English: Influence of farm factors on the occurrence of feather pecking in organic reared hens and their predictability for feather pecking in the laying period

Abstract / summary in English:

Feather pecking is one of the most obvious welfare problems in laying hens. It is seen in all types of housing systems. Although banned in some countries, beak trimming is generally used to reduce the damage caused by this behaviour. In organic farming, where beak trimming is prohibited, the animals are being kept in a less intensive way than in conventional farming in order to improve their welfare. However, feather pecking is also seen in organic laying hens. Generally, rearing circumstances play an important role in the development of this behaviour. Therefore, rearing flocks were monitored for feather pecking and the relations between rearing factors and feather pecking at a young and at an adult age were analysed. Also the correlation between feather pecking during the rearing period and feather pecking during adult life was studied. Twenty-eight commercial flocks of rearing hens were monitored. These flocks split into 51 flocks of laying hens. Flocks were scored for signs of feather damage during rearing at the ages of 7, 12, and 16 weeks and on the laying farms at 30weeks. On the rearing as well as the laying farm, data were collected on the housing system. Logistic regression was used to analyse our data. Feather damage was seen in 13 out of 24 (54%) of rearing flocks. Logistic regression showed that a higher number of pullets being kept per square meter in the first 4 weeks of life were associated with feather damage during the rearing period (Chi square = 8.49, df = 1, p = 0.004). Moreover, the combination of not having litter at the age of 1–4 weeks and the absence of daylight at the age of 7–17 weeks was a significant predictor of feather damage during the laying period (Chi square = 13.89, df = 4, p = 0.008). In 71% of the cases that pullets did not show feather pecking damage during rearing, they did not show feather pecking damage in the laying period either. When flocks of pullets did show feather damage, in 90% of the cases they did so during adult life. These results lead to suggestions on how to improve the rearing conditions of laying hens and increase their welfare not only during rearing but also during later life. Although the observations were done on organic farms, the results can be applied for other non-cage systems too.