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Do laying hens eat and forage in excreta from other hens?

  • C. G. von Waldburg-Zeil (a1), N. van Staaveren (a1) and A. Harlander-Matauschek (a1)


Worldwide, farm animals are kept on litter or foraging substrate that becomes increasingly soiled throughout the production cycle. For animals like laying hens, this means that it is likely they would scratch, forage and consume portions of excreta found in the litter or foraging substrate. However, no study has investigated the relative preference of laying hens for foraging and consumption of feed mixed with different percentages of excreta. A total of 48 White Leghorn laying hens of two strains, a commercial strain (Lohmann LSL-Lite (LSL), n=24) and UCD-003 strain (susceptible to liver damage, n=24), were individually housed and given access to feed mixed with increasing percentages of hen excreta (0%, 33%, 66% and 100% excreta diets) and corn as a luxury food reward (four corn kernels per diet daily). The amount of substrate and number of corn kernels consumed from each diet was recorded for a period of 3 weeks. Both LSL and UCD-003 hens preferred to consume and forage in diets with 0% excreta, followed by 33% and finally diets containing 66% and 100% excreta. Despite the presence of excreta-free diets, birds consumed on average 61.3 g per day of the diets containing excreta. Neither physical health, measured by plasma enzyme activity levels, nor cognitive differences, assessed by recalling a visual discrimination task, was associated with relative feeding or foraging preference. In conclusion, this study demonstrated a clear preference for feeding and foraging on substrate without excreta in laying hens. However, considering the amount of excreta diets consumed, further studies are needed to understand the causes and consequences of excreta consumption on physiological and psychological functioning, and how this information can be used to allow adjustments in the management of foraging substrates in farmed birds.

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Do laying hens eat and forage in excreta from other hens?

  • C. G. von Waldburg-Zeil (a1), N. van Staaveren (a1) and A. Harlander-Matauschek (a1)


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