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Effect of free-range access, shelter type and weather conditions on free-range use and welfare of slow-growing broiler chickens

By Lisanne M. Stadig, T. Bas Rodenburg, Bart Ampe, Bert Reubens, Frank A. M. Tuyttens

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Abstract

Free-range access for broiler chickens can benefit animal welfare because the birds have access to a more natural environment and more opportunities to perform natural behaviours than in indoor systems. Also, they have more space and more environmental enrichment, which could lead to better leg health and decreased fearfulness. In practice, however, use of the free-range area is often low. Lack of shelter likely plays an important role in this, as do weather conditions. In this study during 2 production rounds of slow-growing broiler chickens, 200 chickens were housed indoors (IN), 200 were provided with free-range access to grassland with artificial shelter (AS), and 200 were provided with free-range access to an area with short rotation coppice (SRC) from 4 until 10 weeks of age. Free-range use was monitored using photographs and live observations. Weather conditions and free-range use were monitored throughout the outdoor period. Tonic immobility (TI) as fearfulness assessment was done at the beginning (round 2 only) and the end of both production rounds; leg health and tibia bone health were assessed at the end of the production rounds. Mean percentage of birds using the free-range area was higher in SRC than in AS groups (42.8% vs. 35.1%; F1,7=1180.00, P

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 192
Pages 15-23
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.11.008
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Tags
  1. Fear
  2. Legs
  3. Poultry
  4. shelters