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Laying hens go undercover to improve production
  1. A. Bright, PhD1 and
  2. A. D. Joret, HND, ARAgS2
  1. FAI Farms Ltd, The Field Station, Wytham, Oxford OX28QJ, UK
  2. Noble Foods Ltd, The Moor, Bilsthorpe, Newark NG22 8TS, UK
  1. E-mail for correspondence ashleigh.bright{at}

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DURING 2007, all laying hen producers within the McDonald's Restaurants UK supply base (McDonald's Restaurants UK source eggs from free-range UK producers) were required to plant, if not present already, 5 per cent of the total range area in trees. Noble Foods supply free-range eggs into a variety of food retailers not all of which require tree cover on the range. In this study, the authors investigated whether there was a difference between two important production traits: (1) packing station egg seconds and (2) mortality, in matched free-range laying flocks with and without tree cover on the range.

In commercial free-range laying systems, the provision of an outdoor range leads to larger space allowances, a higher number and diversity of stimuli, and opportunity to move between environments with different substrate, climatic and light conditions. There is a well-established link between tree cover, range use and injurious feather pecking (an abnormal behaviour that consists of pulling, plucking and damaging feathers of conspecifics (Savory 1995)) in commercial laying flocks; the higher the percentage of flock using the outdoor range, the lower the prevalence of injurious feather pecking (Green and others 2000, Bestman and Wagenaar 2003, Nicol and others 2003, Horton 2006, Lambton and others 2010, Bright and others 2011).

If providing tree cover on the range improves bird welfare (as indicated by reduced injurious feather pecking), it might also …

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