Management approaches to reduce feather pecking in laying hens

Jong, I.C. de; Rodenburg, T.B.; Niekerk, T.G.C.M. van


The current paper summarizes recent findings on management approaches that reduce feather pecking in laying hens. Results from epidemiological studies as well as studies on single factors have been taken into account, from the period of 2005 up till now and older studies have been included where relevant. Feather pecking in laying hens is still a major problem and because of the development of an increasing number of flocks housed in non-cage systems and a possible future ban on beak trimming in some countries it is important to define effective management strategies. In general, recent studies provide additional evidence for factors associated with an increased or reduced risk for feather pecking compared with earlier work in this field. It has been confirmed that the rearing period is very important to prevent feather pecking in the laying phase. Management factors associated with a reduced risk for severe feather pecking are a reduced stocking density, diets with increased fibre contents, mash instead of pelleted feed, reduced light intensity, presence of good quality substrate, access to attractive outdoor runs and providing environmental enrichment to stimulate foraging and exploration behaviour. As feather pecking is a multifactorial problem, the interaction between management factors and between management and the genetic background of the bird is important and an area for further research. In addition, the transfer of knowledge from scientific studies to commercial practice an issue that should receive attention.