Sandilands, V., Baker, L., Donbavand, J. et al. 2022. Do hens use enrichments provided in free-range systems? Animals 12(8), 995.
Hens in free-range systems are given enrichments to increase foraging and limit injurious pecking, but the efficacy of enrichment types requires investigation. We studied hen behaviour and feather cover in eight commercial free-range flocks each given access to four enrichments within the shed. Sheds were split into quarters, in which two enrichments (jute ropes (R) + other) were installed. Other enrichments were: lucerne hay bales (B), pecking blocks (PB), pelleted feed (PF), or further R (control). Hens were observed at three ages, at three times per age (−1, 0, ≥1 h relative to PF application), in 1 m diameter circle locations around ropes (ControlR), Enrich (B, PB, PF, R), and Away from each enrichment. Feather scores were recorded at all ages/times, at the Away location only. Significantly more birds were in Enrich locations where PB, B, and PF were available, and least near R, ControlR, and Away locations (p < 0.001). Proportions of birds interacting with enrichments were significantly higher for PB, B, and PF than R (p < 0.001), but enrichments did not generally affect proportions of birds foraging in the litter, apart from a significant decrease (p < 0.001) in PF birds foraging in the Enrich location because they were directing behaviour at PF instead. Feather scores worsened with age (p < 0.001) but were not consistently affected by enrichment. Enrichment replacement rates varied between farms. Enrichments costs were highest for PB and cheapest for R. Enrichments except R were used by hens, but with no obvious effect on feather cover. A balance has to be struck between enrichment benefits to hens and economics, but evidence suggested that hens did not benefit from R.