Phillips, H. N., Heins, B. J. 2021. Effects of outdoor stocking density on growth, feather damage and behavior of slow-growing free-range broilers. Animals 11(3), 688.
Access to pasture is a main benefit of free-range broiler housing systems, yet the level of outdoor stocking density on broiler animal welfare remains unsettled. The growth, feather damage, pasture ranging and behaviors were assessed for 150 mixed-sex, slow-growing Freedom Rangers from 5 to 11 weeks of age of with free access to either a high outdoor stocking density pasture (0.5 m2 per bird) or a low outdoor stocking density pasture (2.5 m2 per bird). The probability (mean, 95% CI) of tail feather damage was greater for the high-density (23.1%, 16.3 to 31.7%) compared to the low-density group (11.9%, 7.1 to 19.3%). The percent of observations resulting in sunbathing and aggressive attacks (i.e., pecking and fighting behaviors) were greater for the high-density (1.0%, 0.6 to 1.8% and 0.5%, 0.2 to 1.3%, respectively) compared to the low-density group (0.3%, 0.1 to 0.7% and 0.1%, 0.0 to 0.4%, respectively). Furthermore, an interaction between treatment and age indicated that birds in the high-density group displayed greater stretching (during weeks 7 to 10) and panting (during weeks 6 and 9). Results of this study suggest that additional outdoor pasture space may be positively associated with broiler welfare.