Norman, K. I., Weeks, C. A., Tarlton, J. F. 2021. Rearing experience with ramps improves specific learning and behaviour and welfare on a commercial laying farm. Scientific Reports 11(1), 8860.
To access resources in commercial laying houses hens must move between levels with agility to avoid injury. This study considered whether providing ramps during rear improved the ability of birds to transition between levels. Twelve commercial flocks (2000 birds/flock) on a multi-age site were examined between 1 and 40 weeks of age. All birds had access to elevated perching structures from 4 days of age. Six treatment flocks were also provided with ramps during rear to facilitate access to these structures. Flocks were visited three times during rear and three times at lay to record transitioning behaviour and use of the elevated structures, together with scores for keel bone and feather damage. Ramp reared flocks used the elevated structures to a greater extent at rear (P = 0.001) and at lay, when all flocks had ramps, showed less hesitancy [i.e. pacing (P = 0.002), crouching (P = 0.001) and wing-flapping (P = 0.001)] in accessing levels. Mean levels of keel bone damage were reduced in ramp reared flocks (52%) compared with control flocks (64.8%) at 40 weeks of age (P = 0.028). The early life experience of the ramp reared flocks enabled specific learning that translated and persisted in later life and resulted in overall welfare benefits.