Feather pecking & injurious pecking in organic laying hens in 107 flocks from 8 European countries

Feather-pecking and injurious pecking in organic laying hens in 107 flocks from eight European countries.
By Bestman, M; Verwer, C; Brenninkmeyer, C; Willett, A; Hinrichsen, LK; Smajlhodzic, F; Heerkens, JLT; Gunnarsson, S; Ferrante, V. 2017.
Animal Welfare, 26: 355-363(9).

Feather-pecking and cannibalism may reduce the potential of organic husbandry to enhance the welfare of laying hens. We report risk factors for these issues based on a large survey of 107 commercial flocks in eight European countries. Information was collected regarding housing, management and flock characteristics (age, genotype). Near the end of lay, 50 hens per flock were assessed for plumage condition and wounds. Potential influencing factors were screened and submitted to a multivariate model. The majority of the flocks (81%) consisted of brown genotypes and were found in six countries. Since white genotypes (19%) were found only in the two Scandinavian countries, a country effect could not be excluded. Therefore, separate models were made for brown and white genotypes. Feather damage in brown hens could be explained by a model containing a lower dietary protein content and no daily access to the free range (30% of the variation explained). For feather damage in white hens, no model could be made. Wounds in brown hens were associated with not having daily access to free range (14% of the variation explained). Wounds in white hens were explained by a model containing not topping-up litter during the laying period (26% of the variation explained). These results suggest that better feeding management, daily access to the free-range area and improved litter management may reduce incidence of plumage damage and associated injurious pecking, hence enhancing the welfare of organic laying hens. Since this was an epidemiological study, further experimental studies are needed to investigate the causal relationships.

Practice vs theory on the prevention of feather pecking in laying hens in non-cage systems

Are practice recommendations for the prevention of feather pecking in laying hens in non-cage systems in line with the results of experimental and epidemiological studies?

By Lisa Jung, Ute Knierim, In press. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci.


• We compared 15 practice recommendations with results of 108 empirical studies.
• On average each recommendation contained less than 50% of the 49 confirmed preventive factors.
• In total they also comprised 15 contentious and 12 not yet investigated factors.
• On this basis recommendations should be amended and further studies conducted.


Feather pecking (FP) in laying hens is an important animal welfare problem in practice, despite extensive research and increasing sources of advice for farmers. We aimed to give an overview over results from experimental and epidemiological studies. We included non-cage systems, covering the rearing and laying phase. The investigated factors were categorised into those with either good, contentious or no evidence regarding preventive effects on FP. Moreover, we wanted to know to what extent recommendations for farmers are based on this scientific evidence. We extracted 62 potential preventive factors from 88 experimental and 21 epidemiological studies. 17 factors during rearing, and 32 factors during the laying phase significantly affected the risk to develop FP or plumage damage (PD). Factors were counted as significant if other studies found no or at most one opposite result. Seven factors during rearing and 16 factors during laying were confirmed by more than one study, with no or at most one opposite result. Provision of dry litter on the floor and sufficiently high perches during rearing and laying or a high use of the free range area during the laying phase were among these influencing factors. In the reviewed 15 practice recommendations, almost all of these factors have been taken up, although no recommendation comprises all factors and most miss more than the half of them. This leaves ample room for improvement of the recommendations. On the other hand, they altogether recommend 15 contentious as well as eight non-significant or 12 not yet investigated factors for which further scientific investigation is necessary.

Layers protected by lasers

Small scale, with an eye for tradition and with a holistic view on nature and farm life – surely this doesn’t make biodynamic agriculture as innovative as one might think. British-based layer farmer Hoeberichts will prove you wrong. He protects his free-range organic hens from avian influenza infection, coming from wild birds, by using laser

The laser (Agrilaser Autonomic) is silent and shows effectiveness of 90% to 100% in bird dispersal at farms, which the Dutch company says makes it a viable alternative to the expensive method of installing nets all around the entire poultry farm.

Read more (Article by Chris McCullough in Poultry World).

Lasers to guard organic hens from bird flu

An organic egg farm in England has set up a novel method of protecting its hens from bird flu allowing them to stay outdoors.

Orchard Eggs based in West Sussex has taken advantage of the latest laser technology available from a Dutch company in order to scare off wild migratory birds and prevent them mixing with the farm’s chickens. As the British government recently extended the avian influenza (bird flu) prevention zone to April 2017, it also raised the biosecurity requirements poultry farmers must adhere to if they want to keep their birds outdoors. Orchard Eggs, owned by young Dutch couple Karen and Daniel Hoeberichts, said once they heard of the new laser technology steps were taken to set it up to complement the farm’s other biosecurity measures.

Read more. (Original article by Chris McCullough, 2017. Poultry Farm Sets Up Lasers to Guard its Organic Hens from Bird Flu – The Poultry Site).