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pigs faceUse of pecking blocks as foraging enrichment for improvement of feather condition in enriched cages

 

Year: 2023

Alvaro Arroyave
University of Guelph, Canada


Supervisor: Dr Alexandra Harlander

 


 

The majority of laying hen operations worldwide continue to use cage-based housing systems, where hen welfare, particularly relating to feather pecking and the ensuing feather damage, has significant health and financial impacts on the birds and farmers. Pecking blocks (PBs) are increasingly used as enrichment in poultry production systems to improve natural foraging behaviour. To address the knowledge gap related to the use of PBs in cage-based housing, this study aimed to evaluate the preference and benefits of three (A, B, C) commercially available PBs in two strains of laying hens (Bovans Brown and Dekalb White). While the data show that hens interacted well with all three PBs, overall, hens preferred interacting with PB B. Notably, PB B had the loosest texture and highest moisture content, suggesting that textural consideration may be critical for PB choice. At a strain level, white-feathered Dekalb White hens showed no preference for a single PB, while brown-feathered Bovans Brown birds showed a significant preference for PB B. In addition, the findings suggest that placing PBs above the scratch mat elicited a significantly higher level of interaction compared to placing PBs on the scratch mat or above the feed trough. This data indicates that the presence of scratch mats can enhance PB usage. No differences in feather cover were observed among the three PBs tested throughout the course of the experiment, suggesting that the presence of PBs, regardless of the type, may have curtailed feather pecking behaviour and feather damage. The findings from this study provide tangible enrichment strategies to farmers when using PBs with the ultimate goal of improving the welfare of the millions of cage-housed hens.