Managing hens to minimise injurious feather pecking is an important part of a poultry farmer’s role.
Poor feather cover is associated with reduced health and welfare, higher mortality and lower egg output.
See also: Tips on enrichment use for housed poultry
There is also the distinct possibility that beak treatments will be banned, as they have been in some European countries, which will make careful management of injurious pecking all the more critical.
That’s why the Laying Hen Welfare Forum was set up.
It brings together industry, farm, animal welfare, and government expertise to explore how flock management can be improved and injurious pecking amongst laying hens can be reduced.
The forum recently published a report that resulted from 29 poultry farms working with researchers to find tailored interventions that aimed to improve feather cover in flocks.
The report ultimately hopes that Feather Cover Action Plans will be incorporated into Veterinary Health and Welfare Plans that vets oversee.
But alongside the report, which details the trials, five videos were produced highlighting some of the key management tactics that can help with feather cover.
They detail some of the most effective interventions or management tactics that were found to make a difference from the trials.
Enrichments should be attractive, They also need to retain interest to the birds and for practical and widespread uptake should be low cost, easily accessible and not labour intensive for the producer.
Transferring pullets into laying sheds
Transfer from the rearing shed to laying farm is a critical point in a hens’ life and there are many opportunities to make the change as smooth as possible, as the video below details.
Friable litter that enables birds to perform foraging and dustbathing behaviours are key to preventing injurious pecking.
Understanding the overall condition of birds’ feathers across a flock is vital. With a benchmark it is possible to see whether management interventions are making a difference.
See the AssureWel website for more information about feather scoring (link below).
Good range management
Range management is another important aspect of management. Providing easy access to the range, shelter from predators and weather and trees all contribute to an environment in which hens can forage.
More resources for poultry farmers
- More resources and ideas for monitoring and improving feather cover in laying hens are available on the LHWF website.
- The LHWF report in full.
- The AssureWel website, with more information on scoring feather condition.