Environmental Enrichment for Laying Hens — Spherical Objects in the Feed Trough
The welfare of caged laying hens could be improved by placing objects in the feed trough. Such objects might (a) simulate general ground-litter thus promoting more normal foraging activity and (b) give hens the opportunity to 'work' for feed – a behaviour usually thwarted in conventional cages. Spherical objects with various characteristics were placed in the feed trough of a tier of caged laying hens (n = 16). The hens pecked frequently at the objects, moving them to the trough space of adjacent cages. The mean proportion of hen heads over the trough containing these objects was significantly greater than before the objects were present (35.3 cf 32.9%) and significantly greater than the proportion of heads over a similar trough containing no objects (33.6%). Thirty days later, the mean proportions were still significantly different (33.5 cf 31.0%) showing that there was little habituation. Daily manual scattering of the objects increased the distance they were subsequently moved by the hens (23.0 cf 19.3cm/day) indicating increased pecking activity. In a second study 12 hens were given a choice of feeding from troughs containing 0, 12 or 36 spherical objects. There was no overall preference to feed from any of the troughs. All the hens fed from troughs containing the objects, possibly indicating that the opportunity to move the objects and forage or work for feed was desired on occasions. Brightly coloured spherical objects are considered to be a promising method of successful environmental enrichment for caged laying hens. Their use to improve the welfare of caged laying hens appears to be practical and reasonably inexpensive.
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