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The risk factors affecting the development of vent pecking and cannibalism in free-range and organic laying hens

By S. L. Lambton, T. G. Knowles, C. Yorke, C. J. Nicol

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Injurious pecking remains one of the biggest animal welfare and economic challenges for free-range egg producers. This prospective epidemiological study investigated the development of vent pecking (VP) and cannibalism on 62 free-range and organic UK farms (119 flocks). Flocks were visited at 25 (5) and 40 (5) weeks of age. Rates of VP were recorded and farmers were asked whether they had observed cannibalism in their flocks. Environmental and management data were collected for each flock. Risk factors associated with these behaviours were modelled using MLwiN. VP was observed in 19.5 and 29.9% of flocks, at mean rates of 0.35 and 0.21 bouts per bird per h, at 25 and 40 weeks, respectively. Cannibalism was reported at 22.6% of visits. The odds of flocks showing VP or cannibalism increased with rate of severe feather pecking (SFP). VP was more likely to be observed in laying houses with more and/or longer pop holes and where feed was scattered on the floor. Providing more aerial perch length, or perches >0.5 m in height, was associated with increased risk of VP. When SFP was excluded from the model, likelihood of VP was higher in flocks fed pelleted feed. All of these may provide a useful basis from which to derive management strategies to reduce the risk of VP and thus improve the welfare of laying hens. However, it is important to remember that this study does not elucidate the causal relationships between these variables, and further work is needed to understand the mechanism behind these associations.

Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 24
Issue 1
Pages 101-111
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Publisher Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
DOI 10.7120/09627286.24.1.101
Language English
Author Address School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Bristol, Langford House, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animals
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Birds
  5. British Isles
  6. Cannibalism
  7. Commonwealth of Nations
  8. Developed countries
  9. Dwellings
  10. Egg production
  11. Epidemiology
  12. Europe
  13. Farms
  14. Feathers
  15. Feeds
  16. Flocks
  17. Food quality
  18. Foraging
  19. Fowls
  20. Hens
  21. models
  22. OECD countries
  23. peer-reviewed
  24. pellets
  25. Poultry
  26. quality
  27. risk factors
  28. United Kingdom
  29. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed