Methods available to assess animal welfare at farm level are based on a range of welfare parameters, which can be divided into two categories, environment-based and animal-based parameters. The first category describes features of the environment and management, which can be considered prerequisites for welfare. The second category records animals' responses to that particular environment and management more directly. Objective of this study was to validate a mainly environment-based method, the animal needs index (ANI), with animal-based methods: behavioural observations and feather condition scores (FCS). The study was conducted on 20 commercial laying hen farms, 10 farms with battery cages and 10 farms with deep litter systems. During a 1-day visit on each farm, ANI was assessed, FCS was scored, and behavioural observations were performed. Instantaneous scan sampling and continuous focal sampling were used to assess the time spent on different behaviours and the occurrence of event behaviours. Data from behavioural observations and FCS were reduced with principal factor analysis. This resulted in two factors for each method. Significant positive correlations were found between ANI, on the one hand, and 'movement' and 'comfort', two factors from behavioural observations, on the other hand. A significant negative correlation was found between ANI and 'wing damage' (from FCS). The results of this study show that ANI is valid and sensitive enough to show differences in animal welfare between housing systems, whereas differences in welfare within housing systems cannot be shown. In conclusion, ANI is an appropriate method for assessment of laying hen welfare on a large number of farms with different housing systems.
- alternative systems
- housing systems