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Freire - 2003

Behaviour and welfare of individual laying hens in a non-cage system

1. A leg band containing a transponder was fitted to 80 birds in a perchery containing 1000 birds.
2. The transponder emitted a unique identification number when a bird walked on one of 8 flat antennae on the floor. The recording apparatus was used to measure the amount of time that each of the tagged birds spent on the slatted and littered areas in a 6-week period.
3. Some birds spent long periods of time on the slats, possibly as a means of avoiding repeated attacks. Duration on the slats was greatest in birds with the worst (as opposed to better) feather scores of the head, back and tail regions.
4. Birds that spent long periods on the slats were lighter than other birds at both 39 weeks of age and 72 weeks of age and had greater back, head and tail feather damage, consistent with these birds being victims of pecking.
5. Tagged birds received a social avoidance test outside the perchery at 39 weeks of age, which suggested that birds retreated to the slats in response to pecks rather than just to close proximity to other birds.
6. The failure to find that duration on the slats was related to anatomical indicators of stress (liver, spleen and bursa of Fabricius) suggests that retreating to the slats following pecking attenuates physiological stress responses.
7. We conclude that the provision of areas where birds in a large group can avoid pecking may improve the welfare of a minority of victimised birds.

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17 August 2010


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