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Early rearing enrichments influenced nest use and egg quality in free-range laying hens

  • M. S. Bari (a1) (a2), A. M. Cohen-Barnhouse (a1) and D. L. M. Campbell (a2)

Abstract

In Australia, free-range egg production pullets are typically reared indoors, but adult layers get outdoor access. This new environment may be challenging to adapt to, which could impair egg production and/or egg quality. Adaptation might be enhanced through rearing enrichments. We reared 1386 Hy-Line Brown® chicks indoors with three treatments across 16 weeks: (1) a control group with standard litter housing conditions, (2) a novelty group providing novel objects that changed weekly, and (3) a structural enrichment group with custom-designed structures to partially impair visibility across the pen and allow for vertical movement. Pullets were transferred to a free-range system at 16 weeks of age with daily outdoor access provided from 25 until 64 weeks. Daily egg production at different laying locations (large nests, small nests and floor), weekly egg weights and egg abnormalities were recorded from 18 to 64 weeks old. External and internal egg quality parameters of egg weight, shell reflectivity, albumen height, haugh unit, yolk colour score, shell weight and shell thickness were measured at 44, 52, 60 and 64 weeks. There was a significant interaction between rearing treatment and nest box use on hen-day production from weeks 18 to 25 (P < 0.0001) with the novelty hens laying the most eggs and the control hens the fewest eggs in the nest box. Similarly, from 26 to 64 weeks, the novelty hens laid more eggs in the large nest boxes and fewer eggs on the floor than both the structural and control hens (P < 0.0001). Egg weight and abnormalities increased with age (P < 0.0001), but rearing treatment had no effect on either measure (both P ≥ 0.19). Rearing treatment affected shell reflectivity and yolk colour with the control hens showing paler colours across time relative to the changes observed in the eggs from enriched hens. The novelty hens may have established nest box laying patterns as they were more accustomed to exploring new environments. The differences in egg quality could be related to stress adaptability or ranging behaviour. This study shows that enriching environments during rearing can have some impacts on production parameters in free-range hens.

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Keywords

Early rearing enrichments influenced nest use and egg quality in free-range laying hens

  • M. S. Bari (a1) (a2), A. M. Cohen-Barnhouse (a1) and D. L. M. Campbell (a2)

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