Effects of a commercial broiler enrichment programme with or without natural light on behaviour and other welfare indicators

I.C. de Jong*, H. Gunnink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Commercial broiler production systems based on market initiatives to improve animal welfare beyond minimum legal requirements have emerged in several European countries. A common factor in the ‘higher welfare’ indoor systems is the application of environmental enrichment, with or without natural light, to promote locomotor activity and natural behaviours of the broiler chickens. In the current study, we evaluated the effects of a commercial enrichment programme for fast-growing indoor-housed broiler chickens, with or without natural light entering the broiler house. Enrichment materials were selected in relation to perceived minimal hygiene risk and ease of cleaning in between production cycles. Selected enrichments were a combination of wood shavings bales (1.5 bale/1000 chickens), round metal perches (2.7 m/1000 chickens) and metal chains as pecking objects (1/1000 chickens). Three treatments were studied: control (C) without enrichment and natural light, enriched (E) with enrichments as previously defined but without natural light and enriched plus natural light (EL) with enrichments as previously defined and natural light entrance. The experiment was carried out during five subsequent production cycles on one commercial broiler farm with three identical houses. EL could only be assigned to the middle house that was equipped with roof windows (light entrance area: 3% of floor space). C and E were in the two outer houses (alternated in between production cycles). Behaviour was observed during daytime at days 25 and 39 of age by scan sampling. Lameness, footpad dermatitis, hock burn, cleanliness and injuries were scored at the same ages, in addition to the response of the chickens to a novel object. Results showed that the treatments only affected broiler behaviour. E flocks showed significantly more resting as compared with EL and C. EL flocks showed significantly more walking, exploration and foraging behaviour as compared with E and C. Thus, broiler activity was highest in the EL treatment and lowest in the E treatment, with the C treatment in between. No treatment effects were found on the other welfare indicators and only a few tendencies for treatment effects were found for the novel object test, with E birds tending to be more reluctant to approach the object as compared with EL and C birds. We concluded that providing environmental enrichment and natural light-stimulated activity and natural behaviours in broiler chickens, whereas providing enrichment only seemed to have the opposite effect as compared with control flocks without enrichment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-391
JournalAnimal
Volume13
Issue number2
Early online date16 Jul 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

Keywords

  • activity
  • bales
  • chickens
  • exploration
  • perches

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