Free-range use and behavior of slow-growing broiler chickens: effects of shelter type, enrichment, age and weather conditions

L.M. Stadig, T.B. Rodenburg, B. Ampe, B. Reubens, F.A.M. Tuyttens

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingAbstract


Increased free-range use by slow-growing broiler chickens could benet their welfare. €is study aimed to assess the e�ects of enrichment early in life, shelter type (articial or natural), weather conditions and age on broilers’ free-range use. €ree production rounds (R) were performed, with 440 Sasso chickens each. Birds were housed indoors in 4 groups of 110 animals from d0-25, during which 2 groups per round received environmental enrichment (hay bales, strings, grain, mealworms). At d25, birds were moved to 4 mobile houses on a 1 ha eld. From d28-70, birds had access to both grassland with articial shelter (A-frames; AS) and short rotation coppice (SRC). SRC consisted of densely planted willows (15,000 trees/ha). Free-range use was observed 3 times daily on 15, 21 and 18 days in R1, R2, and R3, respectively. €e number of animals outside, their location (AS; SRC) and distance from the house (0-2 m; 2-5 m; >5 m) were recorded. In R2 and R3, behavior of the outside chickens was also recorded. Weather conditions were recorded every 15 min. Data were analyzed using a GLM Poisson regression model, with a rst-order autoregressive covariance-structure to correct for multiple observations over time within the same house. For multiple comparisons, p-values were corrected using the Tukey-Kramer method. On average, 26% of the birds were outside. Early-life enrichment tended to have a small positive e�ect on free-range use (0.4% more birds outside; P=0.052). At all distances, more birds were in SRC compared to AS (all P<0.001). In AS more birds were at 0-2 m than at 2-5 m or 5 m from the house (all P<0.005). In SRC more birds were at 0-2 m and 2-5 m than at >5 m from the house (all P<0.001). Freerange use increased with age, particularly in areas further from the house (P<0.001). In AS, rainfall and low solar radiation were related to more birds outside, while the opposite was true in SRC (P<0.001). Fewer birds were outside with increasing wind speed (both AS and SRC; P=0.049). A higher percentage of chickens was observed to forage in AS compared to SRC (50 vs 28%; P<0.001). €e opposite was true for standing (6 vs 9%; P<0.001) and sitting, but for the latter the di�erence tended to decrease with distance from the house (P=0.065). We conclude that: (1) early-life enrichment had no profound e�ect on free-range use in broilers; (2) SRC was preferred over AS, suggesting this shelter was more suitable and attractive; and (3) behavior was related to shelter type.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 50th congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology
Subtitle of host publicationStanding on the shoulders of giants
EditorsCathy Dwyer, Marie Haskell, Victoria Sandilands
Place of PublicationWageningen
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
Number of pages1
ISBN (Electronic)9789086868339
ISBN (Print)9789086862870
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Event50th Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology - Edinburg, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Jul 201615 Jul 2016


Conference50th Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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