Laying Hens: Feather Pecking & Cannibalism (PB10596)

Summary

Bouts of injurious feather pecking are often attributable to the accumulated effects of a number of stress factors occurring at the same time. Producers need to think in terms of ‘risk’ – some factors will increase the risk of pecking, others will reduce the risk. The aim should always be to tilt the balance towards reducing risk.

Factors that increase the risk of injurious pecking include:

  • Moving from pullet rearing accommodation to the laying quarters
  • Underweight and / or uneven flocks with large variations in bird weights
  • Changes in feed provided for the hens
  • Changes in the environment, such as changes in the weather, sudden unexpected noises, equipment malfunctions etc.
  • Disease and pest challenges – especially red mite and vermin
  • Changes in light intensity and lighting patterns

Factors that decrease the risk of injurious feather pecking include:

  • Good quality pullets, with an even size and weight, reared to exacting standards.
  • Pullets reared in housing conditions that closely mirror those that the bird will encounter on the laying farm (the ‘seamless transition’)
  • Pullets which have a calm disposition yet are robust enough to cope with changes in the environment and management (able to ‘soak-up the bumps’)
  • Birds which maximise the use of the range, are active and engage in dust bathing and litter scratching activities.
  • Competent and calm stock keepers
  • Well-designed houses with good quality litter
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