Riedel, A., Rieke, L., Kemper, N. et al. 2022. A place to be? Use of winter gardens with and without automatic enrichment devices by laying hens. Applied Sciences 12(7), 3650.

Since the abolition of beak trimming in laying hens in Germany, the importance of adequate enrichment material to help reduce feather pecking and cannibalism has grown. Here we tested an automatic enrichment device dosing grain via rough-coated pecking plates (PPs) on an organic farm, comparing its offer in four winter gardens (WGs). Winter garden (WG) 1 served as the control area without an automatic enrichment device, while WGs 2–4 offered different quantities of PPs, with WG 2 offering double the amount of PPs as WGs 3 and 4. The number of laying hens (Lohmann Brown Lite) per m2 and close to the enrichment device (one hen‘s body length around) was determined using photo records. The usage behavior of the hens differed in the four WGs and with the animals’ age. Over the whole husbandry period (60 weeks), on average, 1.48 hens/m2 were detected in the control area (WG 1), and a mean of 2.27 hens/m2 in the enriched WGs. Compared to WG 1, the number of hens per m2 was higher in WG 2 (2.43 hens/m2) and WG 3 (2.59 hens/m2) (p < 0.05), but similar in WG 4 (1.79 hens/m2). At the end of the husbandry period, fewer animals (mean of all WGs: 1.43 hens/m2) used the WGs than from beginning to the middle of the laying period (mean of all WGs: 2.05–2.15 hens/m2; p < 0.05). Our data indicate that the automatic enrichment device positively influences the animals’ use of the WG.

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