End-user materials from the Hennovation project

Hennovation: “Practice lead innovation supported by science and market-driven actors in the laying hen and other livestock sectors”

The Hennovation project demonstrated the potential of innovation led by producers and industry (on-farm, during transport and at the abattoir) through the establishment of innovation networks that proactively searched for and utilized new ideas to make their business more efficient and sustainable. The networks initially tackle two particular issues of concern in the production chain: injurious pecking and the transport and use of end-of-lay hens. 19 innovation networks were mobilized at different levels of the production chain, local, national and European level in five countries (United Kingdom, Sweden, The Netherlands, Spain and The Czech Republic) These networks were supported by science driven-actors, such as veterinary surgeons, farm advisors and scientific researchers, and market-driven actors, such as those that buy eggs e.g. retailers, packers, food processors, and those certifying egg production e.g. farm assurance companies and certification schemes.

The on-farm networks, 15 in total, focussed on various aspects that are known to have influence on injurious pecking. Injurious pecking is a problem that has many risk factors and the networks tested a variety of innovative ideas. The off-farm networks, four in total, focussed on various aspects that are relevant for catching and transport of End-of-Lay hens.

Alongside product or technical innovation (e.g. new design of trolleys for depopulation, new type of litter material to reduce stress and encourage natural behaviour or the use of alpacas in organic systems to reduce predation), a variety of often less expected and sometimes unintended ‘soft’ innovations also emerged through these networks. These were related to protocol or process (e.g. a new way of monitoring Poultry Red Mite infestation and new relationships between production chain actors, for example the pullet rearers).

Based on the innovative ideas tested by the innovation networks 38 Practice Abstracts and an additional five technical notes were developed by the network facilitators for use in practice by end-users.

TN# Hennovation Technical notes
1 TN01 Monitoring Poultry Red Mite (available in English and Spanish)
2 TN02 A superior method of depopulating end-of-lay hens from enriched (colony) cages
3 TN03 Reducing predation of free ranging hens
4 TN04 Finally you have decided to cook hen!
5 TN05 Novel range cover options within an organic system


PA # Hennovation Practice Abstracts
1 PA 1 Light in the laying hen houses
2 PA 2 Feather scoring as a management tool to reduce injurious feather pecking in flocks with intact beaks.
3 PA 3 Adjustments of stocking density according to outside air temperature during transport of end-of-lay hens.
4 PA 4 Improving the catching and transporting of Laying hens to Slaughter at the End -of-Lay by adding value to hen meat.
5 PA 5 Chick rearing conditions crucial to prevent later feather pecking.
6 PA 6 How to keep laying hens with intact beaks – learning together.
7 PA 7 An easy monitoring method to improve control of Poultry Red Mite in laying hen flocks
8 PA 8 Critical points during catching and transport of end of lay hens
9 PA 9 Selection criteria for laying hen litter
10 PA 10 Litter for laying hens: rape seed straw and fibre hemp straw
11 PA 11 Climate checklist to reduce injurious feather pecking in laying hens
12 PA 12 Measures to suppress poultry red mite populations in henhouses
13  PA 13 Use of a spinosad to prevent red mites
14  PA 14 Unifying the dress code on farms reduces stress in laying hens
15  PA 15 Use of a cost-benefit tool to improve the business performance of egg production enterprises
16  PA 16 Evaluating innovations for on-farm use
17 PA 17 Influence of crate lids on welfare of hens
18 PA 18 Factors affecting dead on arrival (DOA) during hens’ transport
19 PA 19 Influence of handling on injuries during hen transport
20 PA 20 Glossy objects motivate the hens to redirect unwanted feather pecking behaviour.
21 PA 21 Maximise range behaviour and foraging by planting cover crops
22 PA 22 Positive effects of oats in the laying hen diet
23 PA 23 The benefits of providing roughage to laying hens
24 PA 24 Laying hens want to dust bath in peat
25 PA 25 The shade created by the trees around the farm improves the microclimate.
26 PA 26 Mesh on the floor helps newly placed laying hens adjust to aviary systems.
27 PA 27 Reducing the risk of injury when transferring hens at the end of lay from furnished cages to transport lorries
28 PA 28 Evaluating commercial innovations
29 PA 29 Monitoring of poultry red mite using measuring traps: an easy, cheap and effective method.
30 PA 30 Monitoring poultry red mite allows you to anticipate and optimise treatment.
31 PA 31 Sand may be an easier litter material for wet conditions
32 PA 32 Can sand litter maintain better feather cover?
33 PA 33 Monitoring the impact of feed additives to improve the gut-health of laying hens.
34 PA 34 Maximise ranging behaviour by planting trees
35 PA 35 Methods to reduce predation of free ranging hens
36 PA 36 Recommendations for using alpacas as guardians of free range hens
37 PA 37 Comparison of different ways to measure ammonia levels in the laying hen shed
38 PA 38 Risk assessment of each flock at end-of-lay reduces losses

A full version of the Hennovation Practice abstracts (i.e. end-user materials) listed above can be found here.

From beak to tail – Mechanisms underlying damaging behaviour in laying hens and pigs (Satellite workshop ISAE-2017)

August 7, 2017 a very nice one-day meeting was held in Aarhus (DK) to discuss feather pecking in laying hens and tail biting in pigs.  The meeting was a joint initiative of FareWellDock and GroupHouseNet. A Skype4business connection made it possible for about 10 external participants to join the meeting in addition to the 60 delegates present in person.


Opening of the meeting, introduction and networking session,
Anna Valros, Sandra Edwards

9:50-11:00 Theme 1: Mechanisms underlying the link between health and damaging behaviour
Invited speakers: Janicke Nordgreen (pigs), Jerine van der Eijk (poultry)

Mini research seminar
≥ Lisette van der Zande: The estimation of genetic effects of tail damage on weaned pigs and its influence on production traits
≥ Anja Brinch Riber: Link between feather pecking and keel bone damage
≥Mirjam Holinger: Does chronic intermittent stress increase tail and ear manipulation in pigs?
≥Laura Boyle: The effect of removing antibiotics from the diets of weaner pigs on performance of ear and tail biting behaviours and associated lesions

11:00-11:20 Coffee/tea break
11:20-12:20 Theme 1 continues: Group and plenary discussion, Anna Valros
12:20-13:20 Lunch break
13:20-14:30 Theme 2: Predisposing factors for damaging behaviour during early development
Invited speakers: Jo Edgar (poultry) and Armelle Prunier (pigs)

Mini research seminar
≥Ute Knierim: A tool to work on risk factors during rearing for feather pecking in laying hens
≥Elske de Haas, Margrethe Brantsæter & Fernanda Machado Tahamtani: Disrupting availability of floor substrate in the first weeks of life influences feather pecking during rearing and lay – a Dutch and Norwegian approach
≥Anouschka Middelkoop: Effect of early feeding on the behavioural development of piglets around weaning
≥Irene Camerlink: The crooked mind of the commercial pig: can we rectify abnormal biting behaviour by early and later life conditions?

14:30-14:50 Coffee/tea break
14:50-15:50 Theme 2 continues: Group and plenary discussion, Sandra Edwards
15:50 Closing of workshop

Some tweets from the workshop:

Acute lethal aggression is increasingly seen in commercial pig farming, as is excessive neonatal aggression (Irene Camerlink)

About 50 studies link (in-)adequate foraging to injurious feather pecking in poultry (Jo Edgar).

Maternal care strongly influences chick behavioural development (Jo Edgar)

Study: Lots of ear biting on Irish pig farms, up to 50% of pigs; Follow up: Antibiotic use may play a role (both causing & treating) (Laura Boyle).

Feather pecking appears to be linked to keel bone damage (Anja Brinch Riber).

Feather pecking is associated with elevated specific immune response (Jerine van der Eijk).

Tipping bucket model of feather pecking
Tipping bucket model of feather pecking (modified after Bracke et al. 2012 model for tail biting).

Feather pecking: More research on the effect of nutrition

How does animal nutrition in early life influence feather pecking behaviour in adult birds? Wageningen University & Research and partners have started a project to gain more insight into this topic.

Feather pecking in the layer industry is a growing societal and economic concern, since the 2012 EU-ban on battery cages for laying hens. The upcoming ban on beak trimming may increase the severity of injuries caused by feather pecking, and urges for a solution to this major animal welfare problem eventually resulting in a significant economic loss for the farmer.

Read the original article by Emmy Koeleman in All About Feed here



Feather peckers and their victims are more prone to fluctuating asymmetry than control hens

Both feather peckers and victims are more asymmetrical than control hens.
By Fernanda M. Tahamtani, Björn Forkman, Lena K. Hinrichsen, Anja B. Riber. 2017. Applied Animal Behaviour Science

Feather pecking is the major welfare issue facing the egg farming industry worldwide. Previous research has found a relationship between cannibalistic behaviour, fluctuating asymmetry of bilateral traits (FA) and body weight in laying hens. As cannibalism is linked to severe feather pecking, it could be suggested that a relationship between feather pecking, FA and body weight also exists. The purpose of this study was to analyse the association between feather pecking behaviour and a) FA, b) body weight and c) comb size in laying hens. Sixty-four laying hens were categorised as feather peckers, victims or control hens based on weekly performance of feather pecking behaviour from age 0–23 weeks and plumage condition at age 23 weeks. After culling at 23 weeks of age, the lengths of ulna, tarsus and middle toe as well as the widths of tarsus and hock were measured twice in each side. Each trait was tested for repeatability, directional asymmetry and antisymmetry. Only the three lengths were considered appropriate for analyses of composite and single-trait FA. Control hens displayed less composite FA (P =0.0005) and less FA of ulna (P =0.0001) than feather peckers and victims. Tarsus asymmetry differed between all categories with victims displaying most, control hens least and feather peckers intermediate levels of asymmetry (P< 0.0001). Victims were also lighter in body weight compared to control hens and feather peckers (P =0.043). No difference was found in comb size between the three categories (P =0.1). The results suggest that feather peckers and victims were exposed to similar levels of negative experiences, causing developmental instability, whereas control hens were less negatively affected than both feather peckers and victims during early life.

Webinar: How to limit the impact of non-beaktrimming on animal welfare in parent stock


How to limit the impact of non-beaktrimming on animal welfare in parent stock
This Poultry World webinar delves into the possibilities to limit the impact of non-beaktrimming in parent stock. What is the best way forward with stopping the invasive procedure, without resulting in feather pecking or even cannibalism.

Find out more on June 29. Attendance is free.

Birds are ‘equipped’ by mother nature with a formidable set of weapons. With toes and especially beaks they are able to cause each other quite some harm, especially in modern animal husbandry systems. That is why beak trimming, became a standard operating procedure, with the hot blade and later via infrared treatment directly after hatch. However, with stricter legislation concerning animal welfare, alternatives to beak trimming have been under investigation.
Ingrid de Jong
Senior researcher of Wageningen University, Ingrid de Jong will share her experiences from studying several trials with non-beaktrimmed breeders and will explain the possibilities to prevent birds from starting the peck at each other. Furthermore she will give insights in what to do if the birds start pecking. What management tools are at hand.
Yousef Daoud
Yousef Daoud, product manager breeders at Roxell will explain how natural beak smoothing can safe feed consumption on the one hand and prevent mortality due to pecking on the other hand. With the ‘Natural Beak Smoothing concept’ the beak growth of broiler breeders will be controlled continuously while they are fed.
Fabian Brockotter
The webinar will be hosted by Fabian Brockotter, editor for Poultry World.
Join the experts, attendance is free
Webinar time
The webinar will be broadcast live from Amsterdam, the Netherlands June 29, 2017 at 15.30pm Central European Time. This corresponds with:
• 9.30am in Atlanta, GA;
• 16.30pm in Moscow, Russia;
• 14.30pm in London, UK;
• 20.30pm in Bangkok, Thailand;
• 21.30pm in Beijing, China;For anyone who is unable to follow the webinar, it will be available for streaming at any other date at a later moment.

Feather pecking and associated welfare issues in layers

Feather pecking behaviour and associated welfare issues in laying hens. By Dixona, Laura Marie, 2008. Avian Biology Research, 1: 73-87(15).


Feather pecking, the pecking at or removal of feathers from one bird by another, is a problem in the poultry industry. Elimination of damaging feather pecking from flocks is made especially difficult by the numerous factors that appear to influence its prevalence. This review outlines the various contributors to feather pecking organised around Tinbergen’s four questions on causation, ontogeny, phylogeny and function. There is growing evidence that feather pecking (especially severe feather pecking) is related to foraging motivation and gut function. However, other factors, such as improper early experiences, strain and individual differences and perseveration of the behaviour help explain its continued occurrence, even if the birds are kept in enriched environments. To date, methods of dealing with feather pecking are inadequate and involve welfare concerns of their own and alternate solutions, such as provision of forages, are not usually successful in abolishing feather pecking behaviour. The problems of excessive pelage/plummage removal or redirected oral/foraging related behaviour are not unique to poultry and seem to occur in other species in which foraging and forage intake is important. Between species comparisons of related behaviour patterns may improve our understanding of feather pecking and help to design effective solutions. In order to solve the problem of feather pecking, the factors discussed in this review need to be accounted for or we risk applying ‘band-aid’ solutions, which may appear outwardly to be solving the problem. However, the underlying cause(s) may still be present and the animal’s welfare may still be compromised.

App warns for feather pecking (article in Dutch)

App waarschuwt tegen pikkerij bij legkippen

Een pluimvee-app van Voergroep Zuid voorspelt de kans op pikkerij en geeft aan of een koppel kippen daar weinig, matig of extreem gevoelig voor is.

De waarschuwing wordt gedaan tijdens drie cruciale perioden in het kippenleven: op pakweg 15 weken leeftijd, bij opzet in de legstal en tijdens de piekperiode, vanaf 27 weken. Voor al deze periodes geeft de app een advies wat een kippenboer kan doen om pikkerij in het koppel te voorkomen, dan wel aan te pakken.

Lees meer (op de site van de Boerderij; alleen toegankelijk voor leden)

Note: The App can be downloaded for free here.

HenHub newsletter

We are about to start distributing the HenHub newsletter. The plan is to send the newsletter with news items collected as published in posts on the HenHub on a monthly basis.

In addition to our collection of news items, the HenHub website contains information about the topics feather pecking and end-of-lay of laying hens.

HenHub is part of the Hennovation project, which has its own hennovelties newsletter.

You may submit potential news items for the HenHub newsletter to Marc . Bracke [At] wur.nl.


German manual and research links on feather pecking

Some good manuals on how to prevent feather pecking in laying hens are available in the German language.

• LWK Niedersachsen (2016) Managementleitfaden – Minimierung von Federpicken und Kannibalismus bei Legehennen mit intaktem Schnabel

• Empfehlungen für die Aufzucht von Junghennen-Kurzfassung 1 Stand: 17.02.2015

For those who want to know more about German research on prevention of featherpecking, please check out these links: Niedersachsen and BMEL.