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The effect of experience of ramps at rear on the subsequent ability of layer pullets to negotiate a ramp transition

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-99
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume208
Early online date24 Aug 2018
DOIs
DateAccepted/In press - 22 Aug 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 24 Aug 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Nov 2018

Abstract

In commercial situations, laying hens must negotiate levels to reach resources such as food, water and litter. Providing ramps in aviary systems reduces collisions and resultant keel bone fractures in adults. We investigated whether providing ramps during rear improved the ability of birds to transition between levels. Chicks were reared commercially in two flocks both of which provided access to raised structures from three weeks of age. One flock had no ramps, but the other flock was provided with additional access to two types of ramp (wooden ladders, and grids formed from commercial poultry slats placed at an angle). At 8 weeks of age, 64 birds (32 from each rearing condition) were transferred to an experimental facility. At 10 weeks of age, 32 pullets from each group were trained to run to a food reward. During testing at 12–14 weeks of age the pullets accessed the food reward by moving up or down a ramp. The pullets’ behaviours and time taken to complete the task were recorded. Ramp use over three days was also observed in a room replicating a small-scale single-tier system. Four groups of 16 birds aged 12–14 weeks were housed for three days and the number of transitions between the raised tier and litter were recorded. For upward transitions, more ramp-reared birds than control birds succeeded in reaching the food reward for both ladder (52% vs 13%) and grid ramps (74% vs 42%). Birds from the ramp-reared group took significantly less time to complete an upwards transition (68.8s ± 49.3) than the control group (100s ± 37.6) (p = 0.001). In addition, the control group showed more behaviours indicative of hesitancy (moving away, head orientations, ground pecking and crouching) before transitioning, and signs of difficulty when making upward transitions (crouched walks, pauses, turning, returning and escape attempts). In the group housing observations, the ramp reared groups had almost double the number of transitions between the slats and litter on day one compared to the control group. This difference was reduced by day three. In summary, this suggests there are positive effects of providing ramp experience during rear shown by any combination of bird mobility, strength or cognitive ability leading to an increase in apparent confidence in older pullets. It is not known whether these benefits persist through to the laying period, but no detrimental effects were noted so we suggest that ramps should be included from the early rearing period onwards.

    Research areas

  • Animal welfare, Behaviour, Keel fractures, Laying hens, Ramps, Rearing

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  • Full-text PDF (accepted author manuscript)

    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Elsevier at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016815911830131X . Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 635 KB, PDF-document

    Embargo ends: 24/08/19

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    Licence: CC BY-NC-ND

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