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Effects of light intensity and beak trimming on preventing aggression in laying hens

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This study aimed to investigate the effects of decreased light intensity and beak trimming on aggression prevention in laying hens. In total, 181 White Leghorns were used. At 17 weeks of age, 36 birds were allocated to battery cages (three birds/cage), 36 birds to furnished cages (four birds/cage), and 109 birds were transferred to an aviary. Since aggression increased in the birds from 23 weeks of age (from 0.3% to 6.0%) especially in the furnished cages, , the light intensity during the daytime was decreased to about one-tenth (from 680 lux to 70 lux) at 28 weeks of age. The birds in the furnished cages then had their beaks re-trimmed lightly by using a debeaker at 29 weeks of age. Behavioral observations using scanning techniques at 10 min intervals were conducted. Feed intake, bodyweight and feather score were also measured. There was no significant difference in aggression before and after decreasing the light in all three housing systems. On the other hand, the proportion of birds showing aggression decreased significantly just after trimming and four weeks after beak trimming in the furnished cages (P < 0.05 and P < 0.01, respectively). The aggression also became similar to the proportions observed in the battery cages and in the aviary. In proportion to the decreased aggression, the proportion of birds eating significantly decreased (P < 0.05). However, their feed intake and bodyweight did not decrease significantly. Against this decreased aggression, the proportion of birds preening significantly increased (P < 0.05). Aggression was observed more frequently at the dust bath in the furnished cages and at the litter floor in the aviary (both P < 0.001). The total feather score for all body parts in the birds in furnished cages increased significantly (P < 0.01) from 25 to 29 weeks of age (at beak trimming), but did not increase significantly from 29 to 33 weeks of age. The increments of neck, breast and tail feather scores in the furnished cages were smaller. In conclusion, there was no significant difference in aggression between just before and after decreasing the light in any housing system. However, aggression in the furnished cages was reduced not only by decreasing the light intensity, but by additional beak trimming. Aggravation of feather conditions – especially at the neck, breast and back – was prevented by the treatment.
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Keywords: aggression; beak trimming; housing system; laying hen; light intensity

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2006

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