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The role of intact flight feathers on elevated resource access of laying hens housed in multi-tiered systems

2021 CPRF
For most birds, the wings play a central role in locomotion, thermoregulation, and predation evasion. Along each wing exists the flight feathers (FFs), structures so essential to flight that the loss of only one is enough to produce flightlessness. Mobility is essential for egg-laying hens housed in multi-tiered housing systems as resources are distributed within stacked vertical tiers. However, the FFs of laying hens are commonly missing or worn down due to feather-pecking behaviour, and overall wear and tear. To date it is unknown how elevated resource access is affected by laying hens with missing FFs. To investigate this, we furnished 12 floor pens with two perches, elevated platforms (70cm height), and two feeders and nest boxes (one of each on the ground or fixed to an elevated platform). We then evenly distributed 120 adult laying hens (60 brown-and 60 white-feathered birds) amongst these pens (1 strain per pen) and randomly assigned each hen to one of three treatments: control (FFs intact), half clip (bilateral trimming of the primary FFs), or full clip (bilateral trimming of the primary + secondary FFs). The total duration (minutes) that each hen spent accessing each feeder and nest box was recorded with an RFID unit for 48-hour intervals on week 0 (prior to treatment), 2, 4, and 6 post-treatment application. We predicted that after hens had received either wing clipping treatment, they would spend less time at the elevated feeder and nest box, with the full clip hens spending the least amount of time. The effect of FF clipping on elevated resource access within each strain was assessed with a generalized linear mixed model. Results of this study showed that elevated feeder and nest box usage was affected by wing clipping and was different for each strain. Brown-feathered hens ate primarily from the ground feeder at week 0 and continued to do so post-treatment. However, for brown-feathered hens of both clipping treatments, there was a decrease in elevated nest box usage of approx. 55% (half clip, P < 0.001) and 60% (full clip, P < 0.001) two-weeks post-treatment. For white-feathered hens, the full clip treatment affected elevated resource usage with approx. 40% less time at the elevated feeder (p <.0001) and elevated nest box (p=0.0004) two weeks post-treatment. These results suggest that intact FFs are more important for elevated resource access and mobility of laying hens in multi tiered housing systems than was previously known.
Tags :
flight feathers,housing system,locomotion
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MSc Student

University of Guelph

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