Decina, C., Berke, O., van Staaveren, N. et al. 2019. An investigation of associations between management and feather damage in Canadian laying hens housed in furnished cages. Animals 9(4), 135.
Feather pecking is a continuous welfare challenge in the housing of egg-laying hens. Canada is currently making the transition from conventional cages to alternative housing systems. However, feather damage (FD) among laying hens due to feather pecking remains a welfare concern. An explorative approach was taken to assess bird, housing, and management associations with FD in Canadian laying hens housed in alternative systems. A questionnaire focused on housing and management practices was administered to 122 laying farms across Canada in autumn of 2017 (response rate of 52.5%), yielding information on a subset of 26 flocks housed in furnished cages. Additionally, a three-point feather cover scoring system was developed to estimate the prevalence of FD. Farmers assessed FD by sampling 50 birds per flock. Linear regression modeling was applied to explain FD as a function of 6 variables (out of an available 54). Of the 6 modeled variables, “increased age”, “brown feather colour”, “midnight feeding”, and “no scratch area” were associated with higher levels of FD at farm level (R2 = 0.77). The results indicated that FD resulting from feather pecking is a multifactorial problem, and supported existing evidence that FD increases as birds age. These results also suggested that “feather colour”, “midnight feeding”, and “access to (or lack of) a scratch area or additional substrate” play a role in FD prevalence in furnished cages.