Poultry behaviour

Music Laying hens have a range of instinctive behavioural needs that are important for their wellbeing. Housing should be constructed and maintained in order to cater for these behavioural needs and ensure that the birds are healthy and that their needs are met. Dustbathing is one these instinctive behavioural needs where birds can crouch down or lie on the ground and throw dust through their feathers. This is important in order to clean and maintain the feathers in good condition. If birds are unable to perform dustbathing, they can become frustrated and stressed and also have poor plumage condition. To allow birds to perform dustbathing, it is important to provide them with the appropriate flooring material, such as sand, peat moss or even dirt. It is also important that the litter is an adequate depth to allow dustbathing so there should be a minimum of about 5cm. Their litter should also be maintained in a dry and friable condition. Hens also have a behavioural need to lay their eggs in a secluded area. So birds should have access to a secluded area with soft bedding materials for the nest. They are more likely to lay in this area if it is darker than the surrounding areas. Laying hens show a strong motivation to be able to perch, particularly at night, where they prefer to roost up higher. Adequate perch space should be provided to allow all of the birds to be able to perch at the same time comfortably. The perch should also be wide enough to allow the birds to stand flat footed on it, so approximately 4cm is a good width. It should be constructed of non-slip material such as timber, although you should also keep in mind the ability to clean it. Even if the birds’ nutritional requirements are met through the diet they still show the need to perform foraging behaviours such as food searching, ground pecking, and ground scratching. These behaviours can be encouraged by the provision of adequate litter such as wood shavings or straw. The birds’ ability to be able to forage can also prevent detrimental behaviour such as feather pecking, where the birds can pull each other’s feathers out. Chickens will form social hierarchies, or ‘pecking orders’ in groups. There may be some aggression associated with the establishment and maintenance of a social hierarchy. But if aggression is noticed for a long period of time and the birds become stressed or injured, such as feather loss around the neck, face and head regions, or there are injuries around the comb and wattle, it may be necessary to separate these birds at least temporarily. However, it should be remembered that chickens are social animals and, isolation can cause them stress so they should be able to at least see and hear other birds. Environmental enrichment is important for the birds, to enhance their behavioural repertoire and also to prevent detrimental behaviours from occurring. When talking about welfare issues associated with laying hens, you really need to talk about the different production systems. In Australia, there are two main types of housing systems. These are cage and non-cage. They both have their unique benefits and drawbacks. The benefits of cage systems are that there are smaller group sizes, which allows easier monitoring. And there’s also a lower risk of transmission of socially transmitted behaviours such as feather pecking and cannibalism. There can be a lower transmission of diseases in this system as well. Some of the obvious drawbacks associated with cage production include the severely limited behavioural expression. Birds can’t really perform dustbathing behaviour, foraging behaviours, exploration, perching or nesting. In non-cage systems, some of the welfare benefits include: an increased behavioural repertoire; birds are able to express those sorts of behaviours, so foraging, exploration, social interactions. Larger group sizes mean that there’s a higher risk of transmission of social behaviours such as feather pecking, cannibalism. If the birds have access to the outside, there can also be an increased risk of disease and predation. Although each production system has its own positives and negatives, it’s really dependent on the management in each farm as stockmanship has a huge impact on animal welfare. From a purely economic point of view, it can be easier to control the cost of production in cage egg systems. So consumers need to decide how much they’re willing to spend and which system they’re willing to support. Music .

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