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Frequent range visits further from the shed relate positively to free-range broiler chicken welfare

  • P. S. Taylor (a1), P. H. Hemsworth (a1), P. J. Groves (a2), S. G. Gebhardt-Henrich (a3) and J.-L. Rault (a1)...

Abstract

Little is known about the implications of accessing an outdoor range for broiler chicken welfare, particularly in relation to the distance ranged from the shed. Therefore, we monitored individual ranging behaviour of commercial free-range broiler chickens and identified relationships with welfare indicators. The individual ranging behaviour of 305 mixed-sex Ross 308 broiler chickens was tracked on a commercial farm from the second day of range access to slaughter age (from 16 to 42 days of age) by radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. The radio frequency identification antennas were placed at pop-holes and on the range at 2.7 and 11.2 m from the home shed to determine the total number of range visits and the distance ranged from the shed. Chickens were categorised into close-ranging (CR) or distant-ranging (DR) categories based on the frequency of visits less than or greater than 2.7 m from the home shed, respectively. Half of the tracked chickens (n=153) were weighed at 7 days of age, and from 14 days of age their body weight, foot pad dermatitis (FPD), hock burn (HB) and gait scores were assessed weekly. The remaining tracked chickens (n=152) were assessed for fear and stress responses before (12 days of age) and after range access was provided (45 days of age) by quantifying their plasma corticosterone response to capture and 12 min confinement in a transport crate followed by behavioural fear responses to a tonic immobility (TI) test. Distant-ranging chickens could be predicted based on lighter BW at 7 and 14 days of age (P=0.05), that is before range access was first provided. After range access was provided, DR chickens weighed less every week (P=0.001), had better gait scores (P=0.01) and reduced corticosterone response to handling and confinement (P<0.05) compared to CR chickens. Longer and more frequent range visits were correlated with the number of visits further from the shed (P<0.01); hence distant ranging was correlated with the amount of range access, and consequently the relationships between ranging frequency, duration and distance were strong. These relationships indicate that longer, more frequent and greater ranging from the home shed was associated with improved welfare. Further research is required to identify whether these relationships between ranging behaviour and welfare are causal.

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Present address: Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia. E-mail: peta.taylor@une.edu.au

a

Institute of Animal Welfare Science, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, A-1210, Austria

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References

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Keywords

Frequent range visits further from the shed relate positively to free-range broiler chicken welfare

  • P. S. Taylor (a1), P. H. Hemsworth (a1), P. J. Groves (a2), S. G. Gebhardt-Henrich (a3) and J.-L. Rault (a1)...

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