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Use of outdoor ranges by laying hens in different sized flocks

By Sabine G. Gebhardt-Henrich, Michael J. Toscano, Ernst K. F. Fröhlich

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In studies assessing outdoor range use of laying hens, the number of hens seen on outdoor ranges is inversely correlated to flock size. The aim of this study was to assess individual ranging behavior on a covered (veranda) and an uncovered outdoor run (free-range) in laying hen flocks varying in size. Five to ten percent of hens (aged 9–15 months) within 4 small (2–2500 hens), 4 medium (5–6000), and 4 large (≥9000) commercial flocks were fitted with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. Antennas were placed at both sides of all popholes between the house and the veranda and the veranda and the free-range. Ranging behavior was directly monitored for approximately three weeks in combination with hourly photographs of the free-range for the distribution of hens and 6h long video recordings on two parts of the free-range during two days. Between 79 and 99% of the tagged hens were registered on the veranda at least once and between 47 and 90% were registered on the free-range at least once. There was no association between the percentage of hens registered outside the house (veranda or free-range) and flock size. However, individual hens in small and medium sized flocks visited the areas outside the house more frequently and spent more time there than hens from large flocks. Foraging behavior on the free-range was shown more frequently and for a longer duration by hens from small and medium sized flocks than by hens from large flocks. This difference in ranging behavior could account for the negative relationship between flock size and the number of hens seen outside at one point of time. In conclusion, our work describes individual birds’ use of areas outside the house within large scale commercial egg production.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 155
Pages 74-81
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.03.010
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Flocks
  2. Free range husbandry
  3. RFID