Free-range laying hens are able to move between the indoor house and range through exits termed pop holes. The aim of this study was to examine the proportion of the flock that used the pop holes and to identify patterns of movement throughout the flock cycle. Four flocks of free-range hens each of 1500 birds were studied. Ten per cent of each flock were tagged with RFID (radio-frequency identification) transponders and their pop hole activity studied throughout the production cycle. Within two weeks of tagging at 25, 35, 45, 55 and 65 weeks of age, approximately 80 per cent of the tagged birds were seen in the pop holes and 50 per cent of the tagged birds were seen on 80 per cent of the days available to them after tagging. Within the flock, subpopulations of birds could be identified: those that never ventured to the pop holes (approximately 8 per cent), those that used the pop holes very infrequently (approximately 8 per cent), those that sat in the pop holes (approximately 4 per cent), and those that used the pop holes frequently (approximately 80 per cent). There was an effect of age of the birds, time of day and daily mean temperature on pop hole usage. Additional factors affecting activity on particular days were wind speed, rainfall and hours of sunshine. The findings show that a significant proportion of the flock accesses the pop holes on a regular basis with only a very small proportion preferring to stay in the house.
- British Veterinary Association
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Provenance not commissioned; externally peer reviewed