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On-farm assessment of environmental enrichment for broiler breeders

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1. A field experiment was conducted with commercial broiler breeder females to assess the hypothesis that the provision of bunches of string and bales of wood shavings would provide attractive environmental enrichment and improve welfare by decreasing aggression and feather damage. 2. The experiment was a randomised block factorial design conducted in a commercial flock of 21 600 female broiler breeders in 12 pens of 1800 chicks. Treatments were environmental enrichment (4 plastic coated bales of wood shavings and 50 bunches of string) from hatch (EE1) or 8 weeks of age (EE2) and a control treatment with no environmental enrichment. There were 4 replicates (rooms). 3. Bird activity was videotaped at 5, 10 and 16 weeks of age and subsequently scored for the number of birds using the perch or pecking at a bale, drinker, litter and section of the wall at 10-min intervals for 4h throughout the photoperiod (24 times/d). Aggression was assessed by determining the number of aggressive acts in 2-min intervals during 8 periods of the day. The skin and feather condition of 25 birds in each pen were scored at 6, 12 and 18 weeks and the condition of the string bunches was scored at the end of the experiment. 4. The proportion of birds pecking the bales, wall and litter declined and the proportion pecking at the drinker and using the perch increased with age. The number of birds pecking at the bale was similar in EE1 and EE2 at 10 and 16 weeks of age. 5. The string bunches were not extensively used. The condition of the bunches of string in EE2 was worse than in EE1 at the end of the experiment. 6. The number of aggressive acts increased with age and there was no consistent difference between treatments. 7. There was an increase with age in the damage score for feathers over the back and wings and around the tail and vent but no differences between treatments. 8. Provision of litter in the form of unopened bales of wood shavings was a commercially acceptable form of environmental enrichment, but there was no evidence that behavioural changes associated with feed restriction, including the prevalence of aggression, were improved.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Roslin Institute, Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland

Publication date: August 1, 2006

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