Early life innovations to improve welfare of laying hens

 by Saskia Kliphuis (UU)

Fig. 1 -Novel object test at 6 days of age (© UU)

It has been six crazy months since the previous issue of the PPILOW newsletter, when we gave our last update on our experimental work. As 2020 has shown us, a lot can happen in half a year. In spite the pandemic and the lockdown that followed, we were able to continue most of the planned behaviour tests with the layer chicks. We performed a novel object test at two ages to assess response to novelty, a lateralisation test to assess changes in brain hemisphere dominance due to the green light, and a tonic immobility test to measure reactive fear responses. In addition, we spent a lot of time observing the pullets in their home pens, to study time budget and early feather pecking behaviour, recovery from stress after a vaccination, and interaction with the larvae tubes. We are currently analysing the first results. It seems that both the green light during incubation and enrichment with larvae caused effects on behaviour, although we would have to wait for the laying phase results and the second-round next year to obtain enough data to quantify these effects. In June, we moved the hens to the mobile houses at ILVO, where the long-term effects on feather pecking, fearfulness and range use will be studied for a year.




Fig. 2 – Behavioural biologists in their natural habitat (© UU)

Meanwhile, the multi-actor approach of PPILOW is already in action, since several NPG-members from other countries have shown their interest in the results of our work. We hope that fruitful on-farm experiments will follow! I would like to give a big shout-out to all the students who helped us with the experimental work. Even while working a large part of their internship from home, they have proven themselves invaluable to the project. Kjelt, Antoine, Margaux, Elyse, Jary, Rosa and Elise, we couldn’t have done this without you!



Fig. 3 – Building test set-up with colleagues and students (© UU)

Fig. 4 – Pullets with larvae tube at 15 weeks (© UU)