Influence of a raised slatted area in front of the nest on leg health, mating behaviour and floor eggs in broiler breeders

Oever, A.C.M. van den; Candelotto, L.; Kemp, B.; Rodenburg, T.B.; Bolhuis, J.E.; Graat, E.A.M.; Ven, Lotte J.F. van de; Guggisberg, D.; Toscano, M.J.


European farms for broiler breeders often have raised slatted areas in front of the nests, but in other regions of the world no raised slatted areas are provided. This study aimed to investigate the effects of a raised slatted area on leg health, mating behaviour and floor laying behaviour. Ten groups of 33 broiler breeder hens and three males were housed in two pen types: with or without a raised slatted area in front of the nests. Each pen had one plastic and one wooden nest. Between 25 and 31 weeks of age, ten marked hens per pen were weighed and assessed weekly on foot pad dermatitis, hock burn and wounds. At the end of week 31, animals were euthanized and bone strength of the tibia and humerus of these individuals was assessed. At 24, 27 and 30 weeks of age, mating behaviour was observed for an hour per pen, noting both numbers of successful and unsuccessful copulations. The number of eggs laid in the nests and on the floor was recorded daily between 20 and 31 weeks of age. Foot pad dermatitis scores were affected by age, but not by pen type. Generally, there were only minor issues with foot pad dermatitis (scores < 11 on a 0–100 scale), probably due to the young age of the hens. Body weight was not affected by pen type, while the prevalence of hock burns was too low to analyse and no difference in bone strength was found for the tibia and the humerus. Overall, mating behaviour was less frequent in pens with raised slats than in pens without raised slats (29 ± 2 vs 35 ± 3 times/h) and more frequent at 27 weeks of age than at 24 and 30 weeks of age (38 ± 1 vs 31 ± 4 and 27 ± 2 times/h). The pens with raised slats had a lower percentage of floor eggs than pens without raised slats (11.2 ± 0.4 vs 19.3 ± 0.5%). The wooden nest was preferred over the plastic nest as on average 63% of the eggs were laid in the wooden nest. This study shows that providing raised slats decreases mating behaviour and percentage of floor eggs, although its effects on leg health remain inconclusive.