Development of on-farm methods to assess the animal-human relationship in laying hens kept in non-cage systems
Abstract:The aim of this study was to develop a set of tests to assess the reaction of laying hens towards humans in non-cage systems and to investigate the repeatability within and between days.
Based on a literature survey six tests were developed or modified, which were examined for practicability and adapted in a first phase. Reactions of hens were recorded directly or with a video camera. These included the reaction towards a stationary person: stockperson (SPs); experimenter: (SPe); a moving person: (moving through flock [MP]; approaching individual hens measuring avoidance distance [AD]) and a complex test including stationary and moving elements: (arm moving to touch hens [touch test] in the litter [Tl] and on the slatted area [Ts]). Six flocks of five farms were visited twice, one week apart. At each visit the six tests were performed during morning and afternoon hours. The order of the tests differed between farms.
Repeatability of flock reactions within as well as between days was high for SPs, AD and Tl. SPe and especially MP showed slightly reduced correlations. Touching hens at the droppings pit (Ts) was less repeatable than in the litter area (Tl).
To sum up, first experiences show that most tests can be practically used in groups of hens in non-cage systems and seem to have good repeatability.