4.3. Management

This post includes the following sections:
Group effects
* Group size
* Stocking density
Range
Pecking objects
* Pecking blocks
* Other pecking objects
Further reading
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Group effects

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Group size

Both scientific and practical experiences indicate that injurious pecking is easier to control in smaller flocks. Therefore, it is advisable to divide flocks into smaller colonies. This is usually achieved by introducing wire fencing in the house. The free-range is often not divided, and as long as there is not too much migration of birds between sections this is not a problem.
European legislation does not set a maximum for flock size, but has limited colony size for organic houses to a maximum of 3000 hens. National legislation or private standards may limit total flock size. For regular layers some local standards can set a limit for total flock size (e.g. RSPCA: 32,000 (barn) or 16,000 (free range)). Also colony size may be regulated by local standards (e.g. 4000 (RSPCA) or 6000 (KAT) per colony). The variation in these standards indicates that there is no clear evidence for a particular maximum colony size. The given numbers are based on a combination of practical experience and economic feasibility.

Stocking density

Maximum stocking density is legally determined. Lower stocking densities are economically less attractive, but could eventually be profitable, if there are fewer incidences of injurious pecking. Although there is no scientific evidence, practical experiences indicate that lower stocking densities reduce the risk for injurious pecking. Use of the free range also helps, as stocking density in the house will decrease as more birds are encouraged to move outside.

Range

Managing the range properly will help attract the birds outside and keep the disease risk low. Management has a lot to do with arranging and maintaining the equipment and facilities of the range. See for examples the Free Range subsection of Housing.

Covered range
Covered range

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Pecking objects

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Pecking blocks

Pecking blocks keep the birds occupied and also slightly blunt the beaks. There are different types of blocks. Sandstone blocks (building material) have been used in the past, however as their content is not known and it is unclear what the birds are eating, special pecking blocks have been developed. These contain beneficial minerals and often edible substances such as grain. Pecking blocks can be placed in the litter or on the slatted floors. If space is limited, pecking blocks can be divided into smaller pieces and/or suspended on strings.

Pecking blocks are best used if they are already introduced in the rearing period. There is some variation between genotypes, but hens that are only provided with pecking blocks in the laying period, often hardly use them (see also the Hennovation flyer on Pecking Blocks).

Whole pecking block
Whole pecking block
Pecking block made small
Pecking block made small

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Other pecking objects

Pecking objects intended to keep the birds occupied can basically be anything that is cheap and attracts the birds. Articles often used include:

  • Strings of rope, hanging down
  • CDs suspended on strings
  • Plastic bottles, half filled with water, suspended on strings
  • Empty plastic jerry cans, laying in the litter or on the slatted floor
  • Drawing dots or crosses onto these items with marker pen can increase their attractiveness as pecking objects.
Enrichment carton
Enrichment carton
Enrichment bottle
Enrichment bottle

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Further reading

SPECIFIC

English

Scientific

Nederlands

 Keeping chickens without yard (in Dutch)
Kippen houden zonder verenpikken. De biologische legpluimveehouderij als uitgangspunt. Bestman, M.W.P. 2002. (Report, 100 pp. 2,7 MB).

Combinatie van factoren tegen verenpikken. Van Niekerk, T., 2013 (Kort overzicht en link naar rapporten).

GENERAL

English

FeatherWel - improving feather cover AssureWel - improving feather cover
FeatherWel management guide [pdf, 5.49mb] AssureWel advice guide [pdf, 661kb]

Nederlands

Treatment of feather pecking (in Dutch) Prevention of feather pecking (in Dutch)  
Noodmaatregelen tegen pikkerij [Treatment of FP]. Van Niekerk et al. 2013 (Report, 32 pp). Van kuiken tot kip [Prevention of FP]. Van Niekerk et al.2011 (Report, 32 pp). Hennovation flyer over Pikblokken

Dansk

Feather pecking key (in Danish)
Fjerpilningsnøgle [Feather pecking key]. Johansen, N.F. 2013 (Report, 48 pp).

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