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SMOTHERING in poultry occurs when birds mass together, often on top of each other, resulting in death from suffocation. Smothering is reported anecdotally as a major and unpredictable problem within the loose-housed egg laying industry (D. Brass, A. Joret, personal communication). The unpredictability of smothering incidences makes it difficult for producers to implement management or husbandry changes to address the problem. There is little published information on smothering incidence, cause or prevention. However, avian hysteria was described by Sanger and Hamdy (1962) as unexplained extreme nervousness, followed by squawking, flight and then hiding or crowding in corners and under feeders (Sanger and Hamdy 1962). Mills and Faure (1990) list suffocation as an important economic and production consequence of panic and hysteria in domestic fowl, and comment that there are few systematic studies of the causes of panic and hysteria because outbreaks are sporadic and hard to induce experimentally.
In this preliminary study, an investigation into the incidence of smothering and possible causal factors was conducted with commercial free-range laying hen producers from The Lakes Free Range Egg Company (The Lakes) and Noble Foods (Noble).
Ten producers and one pullet rearer …