Schreiter, R., Damme, K., Freick, M. 2020. Edible environmental enrichments in littered housing systems: Do their effects on integument condition differ between commercial laying hen strains? Animals 10(12), 2434.
The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of additional enrichment materials (EMs; pecking stones and alfalfa bales) on the occurrence of plumage damage, skin injuries, and toe injuries, with an emphasis on the possible differences between commercial hybrid strains of laying hens. During rearing (weeks 1–18, 16 compartments, 4000 pullets) and laying periods (weeks 21–72, 24 compartments, 2808 hens) in a littered housing system, EMs were permanently provided to the study groups (EXP), while control groups (CON) did not receive additional EM. In a two-factorial study design (two groups with four strains) with 351 hens per variant, the brown egg-laying Lohmann Brown classic (LB) and Bovans Brown (BB) strains as well as the white egg-laying Lohmann Selected Leghorn classic (LSL) and Dekalb White (DW) strains were investigated. Compared to the CON, the EXP showed reduced body mass during rearing (p < 0.001) and reduced albumen consistency in the laying period (p < 0.001). Regarding integument condition, the LSL in the EXP showed more toe injuries than in the CON (p = 0.018). Remarkably, genotype-environment interactions between strains and groups were evident (p < 0.001). In groups with an EM supply, plumage damage decreased in LB (p ≤ 0.033) and LSL (p ≤ 0.005) but increased in BB (p ≤ 0.003). Moreover, there were fewer skin injuries in LSL (p = 0.001) but more in BB (p = 0.001) in groups with access to EM. In view of the diverging effects between strains, future practical recommendations for laying hen husbandry should be strain-specific.