Effect of substrate during early rearing on floor- and feather fecking behaviour in young and adult laying hens

Jong, I.C. de; Gunnink, H.; Rommers, J.M.; Bracke, M.B.M.


An experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis that providing adequate substrate to laying hens during early rearing stimulates pecking to the floor and reduces featherpecking when adult. Laying hens were either provided withwood shavings or sand from day 1 onwards or from day 21 onwards. Chicks without substrate were either reared on mesh matting or chick paper until day 21. Behaviour was observed during rearing and the production period. Moreover, feather damage was scored at the end of rearing and at 40 weeks of age. Results showed that providing substratein early rearing indeed stimulated floor pecking. At four weeks of age, more gentle feather pecking was observed when previously housed on chick paper or mesh matting as compared to continuous housing on sand or wood shavings. However, initial differences in floor- and feather peckingdisappeared with age and only some minor effects were observed at the end of rearing and during production. Atthe end of the rearing period, only the groups that were firsthoused on mesh matting and from three weeks of agehoused on sand, showed significantly more feather damage.No differences in feather damage between the treatmentswere found at 40 weeks of age. This experiment showed thatfloor pecking was stimulated in early rearing when providing substrate. Although the absence of substrate at an early age seems to stimulate gentle feather pecking in early rearing, these effects were not clearly visible at a later age. It is suggested that hens may redirect their early pecking preferenceswhen adequate pecking substrate is provided atthree weeks of age.