Main content area

Changes in feather condition in relation to feather pecking and aggressive behaviour in laying hens

Bilcik, B., Keeling, L.J.
British poultry science 1999 v.40 no.4 pp. 444-451
wounds and injuries, hens, feather pecking, feathers, aggression, skin, animal housing, stocking rate, spatial distribution, body weight, plumage
1. The aim of this experiment was to describe and examine the relationship between pecks received by individual birds and the feather and skin damage of those birds at different ages. The effect of group size was also studied. 2. Laying hens were raised in floor pens in group sizes of 15, 30, 60 and 120 birds, each with 4 replicates. Behavioural observations were performed at the ages of 22, 27, 32 and 37 weeks. Detailed feather scoring was carried out at the ages of 18, 23, 28 and 33 weeks. 3. Behavioural observations focused on the number of feather pecks (gentle and severe) and aggressive pecks received, and on the part of the body that was pecked. Scoring of feather and skin damage focused on the same 11 parts of the body. 4. Increasing numbers of aggressive pecks received were associated with decreased body weight and increased feather damage at the age of 27 and 32 weeks. 5. The number of severe feather pecks received was significantly related with feather damage at all ages; however, no relation with gentle feather pecks received was found. 6. Group size had a significant effect on feather condition, with large group sizes having most feather damage.