Campbell, D. L. M., Horton, B. J., Hinch, G. N. 2018. Using radio-frequency identification technology to measure synchronised ranging of free-range laying hens. Animals 8(11), 210.
Free-range laying hen systems provide individuals a choice between indoor and outdoor areas where range use may be socially influenced. This study used radio-frequency identification technology to track the ranging of individually-tagged hens housed in six experimental free-range pens from 28 to 38 weeks of age (46–50 hens/pen). All daily visits to the range were used to study group behaviour. Results showed that 67.6% (SD = 5.0%) of all hen movements through the pop-holes outdoors or indoors were following the movement of another hen (‘pop-hole-following’) compared to only 50.5% of movements in simulated random data. The percentage overlap in time that all combinations of hen pairs within each pen spent simultaneously outdoors or indoors showed a median value of overlap greater than the 90th percentile of random data. Pens housing hens that had been provided variable enrichments from 4 to 21 days (n = 3 pens) showed higher ‘pop-hole-following’ behaviour and a higher percentage of hen-pair association compared to hens reared in non-enriched conditions (n = 3 pens). These results show that birds in each free-range pen were primarily a cohesive flock and early enrichment improved this social cohesiveness. These results have implications for understanding free-range flock-level behaviour.