Additional Guidance on Multi tier systems for laying hens
How to maximise the use of available space in a cage free system, without compromising the welfare needs of the hens.
Welfare Issues Table - Laying Hens
Summary table which outlines the main welfare issues experienced by egg laying hens and offers some alternative solutions.
Welfare Potential Matrix - Laying Hens
A summary table which outlines the welfare potential by production system for laying hens using a ‘Bad-Better-Best’ model.
Welfare Outcome Summary - Laying Hens
Welfare outcomes are an animal-based method of assessing factors that contribute to an animal’s quality of welfare. Whilst provision of certain resources (inputs) in the environment is necessary to increase the welfare potential of a system, measuring animal-based outcomes indicate the animals’ welfare state. Regularly scoring appropriate outcome measures can identify welfare problems and be used to set targets or benchmark for improvements through an active programme.
Fit for Purpose - Fit for the Future Cage Free Systems for Laying Hens
A one page summary highlighting what companies need to do to ensure their cage-free systems provide a good quality of life for laying hens and meet the growing demand for cage-free eggs.
SUMMARY - Hen welfare in alternative systems
A summary of our technical information sheet on the topic in a simpler, easy to read format.
SUMMARY - Reducing the need for beak trimming
A summary of our technical information sheet on the topic in a simpler, easy to read format.
How welfare schemes compare to Compassion's criteria for higher welfare - Laying Hens
The Food Business team recently produced comprehensive tables comparing various welfare schemes with Compassion’s criteria for higher animal welfare.
Compassion analysed 34 initiatives, across 10 countries and 4 species (broiler chickens, laying hens, sows and meat pigs and dairy cows and calves) to understand which ones meet Compassion’s criteria for higher animal welfare.
Higher Welfare Systems for Laying Hens
A practical guide on alternative cage-free systems that deliver good standards of welfare for laying hens, highlighting the key features that should be incorporated to allow the birds to express more of their natural behaviours.
Improving Feather Cover - FeatherWel
A guide to reducing the risk of injurious pecking occurring in non-cage laying hens.
Hen welfare in alternative systems
“Animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter/killing. Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal; the treatment that an animal receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment.” (OIE, 2011).
Reducing the need for beak trimming
Injurious feather pecking is a major welfare problem in laying hens which can occur in all systems and is considered an abnormal behaviour. The causes are multi-factorial, including genetics, environment, health and management; however insufficient opportunity to carry out foraging behaviour is widely accepted as a primary factor(Huber-Eicher and Weschler, 1997).
Aggressive pecking, which is usually directed at the head, or allogrooming are not considered in this context. Feather pecking can be gentle (low frequency aimed at the plumage or stereotyped high frequency aimed at the tail feathers), or severe, causing denuded areas in the plumage with the potential of leading to skin wounds, vent pecking and cannibalism (Savory 1995).
Usually, a small number of hens in a flock initiate feather pecking, but its transmission throughout the flock is rapid via social facilitation.
Egg production in the EU
There are almost 363 million laying hens in the EU-27 producing 6.9million tonnes of useable eggs / egg product per annum. Average egg consumption in the EU-27 is 12kg/capita/annum(Eurostat, 2011).
France and Spain are the largest egg producers, followed by Italy and Germany then the Netherlands and the UK (Figure 1)(European Commission, 2010). France is the 10th largest producer in the world (accounting for 1.5% of total production), whilst China is by far the largest producer accounting for 37.5% of production (FAOstat, 2012a).
In 2009, the EU exported 188,000 tonnes and imported 35,000 tonnes of egg / egg product. Globally, the Netherlands is the largest exporter of eggs/ egg product (26.4% export share) whilst Germany is the largest importer (27.3% of import share) (FAOSTAT, 2012b).
Consumer perception of eggs
Animal welfare is an increasingly important factor in the purchasing decisions of consumers (Napolitano et al., 2010), sustained despite the prevailing recession (IGD, 2011). Recent surveys indicate almost half of UK consumers surveyed rated animal welfare as either ‘very important’ or ‘extremely important’ (IGD, 2011), whilst 76% (Defra, 2011) and 85% (Clonan et al., 2010) rated welfare as ‘an important’ issue. In fact, farm animal welfare was rated the single most important sustainability related food issue for British consumers (IGD, 2011; Defra, 2011), above health or safety concerns, and over 70% of U.S citizens surveyed reported ‘concern’forfarm animal welfare (Norwood and Lusk, 2011a).Within Europe, Dutch and Danish (77%) and Belgian and German (73%) citizens expressed the highest concern forlaying hen welfare (European Commission, 2005), and overall laying hens were identified as the animals most in need of animal welfare improvements by EU citizens. Consumers will pay for legislative improvements in animal welfare, especially for eggs (Bennett, 1996) where consumers are better informed about initiatives related to welfare and there is no substitute for the product (Vanhonacker and Verbeke, 2009).
Best Innovation Award 2018
The Best Innovation Award recognises a company that has developed and delivered a successful project that has positively impacted farm animal welfare in a significant way.
The project has to demonstrate commercial success and potential to scale and have already been implemented in practice (i.e. be beyond the research stage).
The winners’ submissions for this award are assessed by a panel of judges (including Compassion staff and external stakeholders) and are each awarded points for specific parameters which include the severity of the welfare issue addressed, the potential scale of the impact, and the level of innovation.
The 2018 Best Innovation Award went to SELEGGT in Germany their work in helping to address the issue of killing male chicks in the egg industry - a practice which affects over 5 billion chicks every year.
SELEGGT has developed an endocrinological method for identifying the sex of hatching eggs before the embryo develops the capacity to feel pain. The male (and unfertilised) eggs can be humanely rejected early on and turned into high-quality feed for farm animals.
Watch the video to find out more...
The importance of appropriate pullet rearing
How pullets are reared influences the bird’s welfare throughout their entire life. The move from cage systems to cage-free, and typically free range systems, greatly improves the welfare of laying hens.
Rearing Laying Hens without Beak Trimming
Background: Beak Trimming and Feather Pecking in Laying Hens
Injurious feather pecking is a major welfare problem in laying hens which can occur in all types of rearing systems, including free-range systems that have a higher welfare potential. In the most severe cases it can lead to cannibalism. In order to reduce the risk of feather pecking and cannibalism, hens are usually beak trimmed. This consists of amputating one third to a half of the bird’s beak using a red hot blade or infra-red beam. Beak trimming leads to tissue and nerve damage and is associated with acute pain, irrespective of the method used.
Insufficient opportunity to carry out foraging behaviour is widely accepted as a primary risk factor for feather pecking. However, the causes of this abnormal behaviour are multi-factorial with risk factors – including genetics, environment, health and management. It is therefore important to address them all in order to prevent injurious pecking and to successfully operate a laying hen rearing system without the need to beak trim.
The Rondeel system is a unique barn system, with many features in which the hens are not beak trimmed. This case study highlights the key features and management aspects of this system which make it possible to rear laying hens with beaks intact, without resulting in injurious feather pecking.
Overview of the Rondeel Barn System
Rondeel is an enriched barn system for laying hens, owned by the Dutch Venco Group. There are currently three Rondeel farms located in The Netherlands, and the system is also available for franchise. Rondeel eggs are mainly sold in Albert Heijn retail stores, at an intermediate price between free-range and organic.
A Rondeel barn accommodates 30,000 birds and has a characteristic circular design split into 10 sub-units, each housing 3,000 hens (see illustration on the left).
Each unit is divided into three distinct areas in order to better address the hens’ behavioural and mental needs and give them the freedom to choose their environment.
The three distinct areas
1. Multi-tiered night quarters with three separate levels for feeding, nesting and egg laying, and perching (see picture on the left). The bottom tier is composed of a layer of litter for scratching and dust-bathing. The second tier incorporates nesting boxes while the third tier provides aerial perches, allowing birds to feel safe whilst resting. Feeding stations are provided on the first and third tiers.
2. Spacious day quarters (or veranda – see picture on the right) which provide more space than is required by EU regulation – 6.7 birds/m2 vs. 9 birds/m2 – and natural light (transparent ceiling). This area is covered in artificial grass and grain is scattered every morning to encourage foraging. Dust bathing areas are provided with open-sided screens.
3. An enclosed outdoor area (see picture on the left) enriched with wood trunks and access to soil for dust bathing. When open, this area reduces the indoor stocking density to 5.2 birds/m2, providing a very generous space allowance. The area is covered with netting to prevent wild birds from entering the system and spreading disease. Tree trunks have been provided to create opportunities for perching and hiding.
Keys to success: How Rondeel has managed to stop beak trimming
Several features of the Rondeel barn design are key to preventing injurious pecking, including:
- A multi-tier system in the night quarters, which provides a more complex environment than a single-tier system, and is more similar to the chicken’s natural woodland habitat.
- Aerial perches help prevent feather pecking as they create opportunities for resting and refuge by enabling resting birds to avoid being pecked by foraging birds. They also avoid mixing active and inactive birds by providing distinct resting areas.
- Ranging opportunities - the whole length of the house can be opened for the birds to go outside. Ranging is encouraged in the day quarters by scattering grain daily and providing natural light in a fully covered area – allowing the hens to range while being protected from adverse weather. The provision of wood trunks and wood shavings and the presence of a sandy surface and drainage system to avoid puddles also help to increase the use of the outdoor run. Finally, the presence of drinking points in the day quarters, encourage the birds to range in this area. Increased use of the range is strongly associated with a reduced risk of feather pecking.
- Plenty of environmental enrichment with the provision of nesting boxes and aerial perches in the night quarters, dust bathing areas, artificial grass in the day quarters, wood trunks and wood shavings in the outside run. This diverse and interesting environment is important to allow the expression of a range of natural behaviours such as foraging, perching and dust bathing, which helps prevent injurious pecking.
- A lower stocking density gives the birds more space; 9 birds/m2 in the night quarters, reducing to 6.7 birds/m2 when the day quarters are open and down to 5.2 birds/m2 when the outdoor run is also open.
- Provision of adequate litter in the night quarters, which has been shown to reduce the incidence of feather pecking. The artificial grass in the day quarters is also a unique addition which encourages the hens to scratch, peck, rest and range.
- Climate control, with sensors placed on the rolling doors that separate the day and night quarters, controlling the opening of the doors according to the temperature and creating a uniform climate between the day and night quarters, helps encourage the hens into the day quarters to range and forage.
- Reducing group size within the barn which is divided into 10 sub-groups. The risk of feather pecking is generally lower in hens that are kept in smaller groups than in larger flocks as they are able to establish stable social interactions.
Feeding regime and opportunities for foraging
- Daily scattering of grain, which provides an opportunity for natural foraging behaviour. Increasing the length of time the birds spend foraging and feeding is likely to reduce the incidence of feather pecking.
Genetics and breeding
- The use of the Lohmann Brown Lite breed, which seems to have a lower propensity to feather peck.
Key Learnings and Take Home Messages
As successfully demonstrated in the Rondeel barn system, it is possible to stop beak trimming without resulting in injurious feather pecking. This can be achieved with a good housing and feeding system, a varied environment, appropriate choice of genetics, good flock management and climate control.
Key aspects to successfully stop beak trimming and reduce the risk of feather pecking in a cage-free rearing system include:
- Creating opportunities for resting and refuge and avoiding mixing active and inactive birds, especially through the provision of aerial perches
- Providing ranging opportunities and encouraging the use of the range, especially through the provision of environmental enrichment and outdoor tree cover
- Increasing the length of time the birds spend engaged in foraging and feedingespecially through the daily scattering of grain or feeding a high fibre, low-energy diet of mash rather than pellets
- Choosing appropriate strains of hens, less prone to feather pecking, such as the Lohman Brown Lite breed.
Early experiences during the rearing period (before laying) should also be considered as they have a significant impact on the future tendency of the hens to feather peck. Housing, feeding and management conditions during the rearing and laying periods should be matched as closely as possible to reduce the risk of feather pecking later in life.
To find out more
For further information on beak trimming and reducing the risk of feather pecking in laying hens, you can consult our fully referenced technical resources:
- Our information sheet Reducing the need for beak trimming in laying hens
- Our report Controlling feather pecking and cannibalism in laying hens without beak trimming
- For a detailed practical guide to avoiding injurious pecking, see Bristol University’s management guide at: www.featherwel.org
- For more information on the Rondeel system, you can visit their website at: www.rondeel.org
- View our other Case Studies