Baker, S. L., Robison, C. I., Karcher, D. M. et al. 2020. Keel impacts and associated behaviors in laying hens. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 222, 104886.
Factors contributing to the development of keel bone damage are not well understood. This study aimed to identify behaviors and cage structures associated with acceleration events experienced by individual hens at their keels as the birds navigated their enriched colony cage environments. Additionally, we aimed to characterize the accelerations associated with these behaviors, as we postulated that behaviors associated with higher accelerations may be more likely to lead to keel bone damage. Sixty five 19 week old Hyline W36 hens were placed in each of 12 enriched colony cages. Ten focal hens per cage were selected for observation. Each hen was fitted with a jacket which contained a tri-axial accelerometer with an external sensor that was fitted into a small pocked over the hen’s keel. The logger recorded any time that the hen sustained an acceleration event at the keel (>12 G-units). Logger output was matched with video data, allowing us to describe the behavior of the affected bird at the time of the acceleration event recorded at the keel. Data on each bird were collected continuously over two 3-week periods, when the hens were between 52–60 and 74–83 weeks of age. Collisions accounted for nearly 81% of observed acceleration events with acceleration peaks of at least 20 G-units. The majority of collisions were with the perch and were sustained mainly as the hen attempted to ascend onto it. It has previously been reported that the prevalence of keel bone fractures is higher among hens housed in cages that do versus do not contain perches. This study lends support to the growing body of evidence indicating that interactions with perch contribute to the keel bone damage sustained by laying hens housed in enriched colony cage systems, however, the relationship between acceleration events and occurrence of keel bone damage has yet to be directly assessed.