Effects of the addition of sand and string to pens on use of space, activity, tarsal angulations and bone composition in broiler chickens

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Abstract:

Fast-growing broiler chickens use pen-space heterogeneously and have low activity levels, related in part to leg problems. The aim of this study was to test the effects of the addition of string and sand trays to rearing pens on the use of space, levels of activity and leg problems. Broiler chickens were reared in 12 pens (40 birds per pen). Drinkers and feeders only were present in the six control pens (C group), whereas the six other pens were enriched (E group) with two sand trays and string. Behaviour was recorded by scan and focal sampling on days 2–3, 13–14, 23–24 and 34–35. Bodyweight, the occurrence of tarsal deformities and the composition of tibiotarsi were measured on day 37. Chickens from the E group spent more time and stood more often in the area enriched with sand than did the C group birds. Chickens in the E group foraged in the sand throughout the rearing period, and their foraging activities were greater than those of the C group birds. They had little interest in the strings. Locomotor activity during standing bouts was enhanced in the E group on days 2–3 only. Bodyweight at day 37, the occurrence of tarsal deformities and the composition of tibiotarsi were not significantly different between groups. These results indicate that sand could attract chickens into areas that are usually rarely used, which may reduce problems resulting from their heterogeneous distribution. However, the results also indicate the difficulty of stimulating locomotion.

Keywords: ACTIVITY; ANIMAL WELFARE; BROILER CHICKENS; ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT; LEG PROBLEMS; USE OF SPACE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2004

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