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Reducing feather pecking in free-range hens

A. Bright, D. Brass, J. Clachan, K. A. Drake, A. D. Joret

INJURIOUS feather pecking is an economic and welfare concern in free-range laying hens, but might be reduced by encouraging birds away from the hen house. This study investigated the effect of providing tree cover in the range on plumage damage in end-of-lay hens.

During 2007 and early 2008, 224 laying hen producers were recruited to plant at least 5 per cent of the total range area with trees (if not present already). The species of tree was not specified, but no more than 50 per cent of the trees could be of Pinus genus (ie, fast growing but providing little canopy cover). Producers were instructed to plant the trees in a belt surrounding the house, with the outer branches between 20 to 25 m away from it. Between April 2008 and July 2009, producers recorded the percentage of the range planted with trees and the percentage of canopy cover within the planted area. They also assigned an average plumage damage score for each flock at the end of lay on a scale from 1 to 5. To check the accuracy of these scores, …

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