Toward an Understanding of Beautiful Feather Cover in Laying Hens

Feather pecking (FP) in egg-laying hens, where individuals peck repetitively and excessively at other birds to pull out and eat their feathers, is a challenge for the industry with large economic and welfare implications. High prevalence of FP is reported (60-80%) and this is associated with mortality rates of up to 20-40%, which translates to hundreds of millions of birds dying due to FP every year. It is especially of concern in systems where birds are housed together in large social groups as it is harder to control.With new policies in Canada leading to the transition from conventional cage to alternative housing systems, it becomes imperative to reduce the risk of large scale FP outbreaks. This proposal aims to develop a Canadian FP Management Plan (CFMP) to ensure safe and successful transition to alternative systems. Therefore, we will identify Canadian-tailored risk factors for FP in alternative housing systems through questionnaires while developing an illustrated guide for farmers/auditors to assess plumage condition. This knowledge will be translated into the CFMP and this tool will provide advice on courses of action to prevent/reduce/stop FP in Canadian hen flocks allowing for transitioning to alternative housing systems while maintaining high animal welfare standards.

Nienke van Staaveren
Faculty Supervisor: 
Alexandra Harlander
Partner University: