The effect of keel fractures on egg-production parameters, mobility and behaviour in individual laying hens
A majority of laying hens fracture their keel bones during the laying cycle. It is not easy for a farmer to identify hens with fractures and hen survival rate seems high. Thus, the effect of both recent and healed fractures on bird welfare is unclear. We aimed to investigate the impact of these keel-bone fractures on hens' production and behaviour. The egg production, mobility and behaviour of Lohmann Brown hens without keel fractures were compared with that of hens with old healed fractures of varying severity. In addition, the keel-bone strength and body temperature around the fracture site was measured for each group. Hens with no fractures laid more eggs and had a higher egg-quality score (derived from measures of egg weight, egg surface area, shell weight, shell percentage and shell density). These hens had the highest keel area temperature, strongest keel bones, accessed perches more frequently and took a shorter time to negotiate a walkway obstacle test and to fly down from a raised perch. Hens without keel fractures were better in all investigated parameters than hens with keel fractures, indicating a detrimental effect of fractures on both welfare and economic return.
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