Use of dynamic and rewarding environmental enrichment to alleviate feather pecking in non-cage laying hens

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Courtney L. Daigle, T. Bas Rodenburg, J. Elizabeth Bolhuis, Janice C. Swanson, Janice M. Siegford
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
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Feather pecking (FP) can cause feather loss, resulting in physical injuries, which may lead to cannibalism. FP appears to be a redirection of foraging behavior, which intensifies when hens have difficulty coping with stress and fear. Dynamic environmental enrichment (EE) may allow expression of natural foraging behavior thus reducing conspecific pecking behavior and alleviating hen injury. Three treatments (plastic box: BOX; hay bale: HAY; and no enrichment: CON) were randomly applied to 30 identical floor pens (10 hens/pen; 10 pens/trt). At the pen level, hen behavior, and the number of severe FP (SFP), gentle FP (GFP), aggressive pecks (AP), and enrichment pecks (EP) were recorded from video prior to (21 wk) and after (24 wk) treatment implementation, and when hens were 27, 32, and 37 wk of age. A manual restraint test (MR) was performed immediately after behavioral observations and levels of blood serotonin (5-HT) and glucocorticoids (GC) measured. Short-term (ST) and long-term (LT) analyses identified the impact of EE over the ST (21 vs. 24 wk of age) and LT (21 vs. all other ages) at the pen level. At the pen level, HAY (3.18 ± 0.33) tended to reduce GFP compared to CON (4.10 ± 0.34) over the ST (P = 0.15) and LT (P = 0.09), but did not impact the number of SFP, or AP over the ST or LT. More EP was observed in HAY (3.56 ± 0.14) than BOX (1.61 ± 0.18) throughout the study (P < 0.0001). More HAY hens perched (P = 0.05) at 24 wk (0.28 ± 0.12) compared to 21 wk (0.19 ± 0.11), and more HAY hens (3.69 ± 0.25) performed dust bathing compared to CON (4.14 ± 0.22, P = 0.05) throughout the study. CON performed more struggles (1.13 ± 0.04, P = 0.04) and were quicker to vocalize (4.87 ± 0.07 s, P = 0.05) during MR than HAY (latency to vocalize(s): 5.16 ± 0.05; number of struggles: 0.96 ± 0.05), counter-intuitively suggesting CON were less fearful. Treatment did not affect 5-HT or GC. HAY appears to be a promising EE for mitigating GFP in non-cage laying hens. Future studies should examine the impact of EE on individual, rather than group-level responses. These results suggest that the presence of a hay bale is stimulating and may reduce GFP while encouraging hens to redirect pecking towards a dynamic and manipulable EE.


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