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Environmental enrichments increased broiler activity in study

Environmental enrichments in broiler houses may improve bird welfare by increasing natural behaviors, according to Heidi Rinehart, a student at the University of Maryland. Rinehart has studied broiler behavior and welfare for several years at the university.

Rinehart told Poultry Health Today about her study, which looked at environmental enrichments in an organic, commercial broiler house with 36,000 birds and an experimental pen with 20 boilers. Enrichments used included a hay bale, wooden box, spotlight, wooden ramp, and a plastic migration fence (solid and v-shaped). Bird behaviors were checked at 3 weeks and 6 weeks of age.

Indicators of welfare

To measure the impact of the enrichments, Rinehart said, “I looked at the display of their natural behaviors, such as preening, foraging, dust bathing, allopreening and aggression. And then I looked at overall activity levels as an indicator of welfare.”

She found a greater percentage of birds interacted with and were close enough to touch the enrichments in the commercial house compared to the experimental rooms.

“I also found there was a difference in the percentage of birds performing natural behaviors…around different types of experimental pen settings,” she said.

In the experimental pen, Rinehart saw the most activity around a platform ramp with a spotlight shining on it. Each enrichment separately did not gather as much activity. “This could be due to the novelty of a combined enrichment,” she said.

Study take-aways

The results of this study are enough for Rinehart to encourage commercial broiler producers to introduce more enrichment into their flocks.

“I think this study definitely brings to light how different types of enrichments have different effects on birds, and that birds actually have a preference for different types of enrichments,” she explained. “If I were to do the study again, I would definitely look at a wider range of enrichments and the different ways to introduce them,” she said. Because the novelty of the enrichments wore off as the birds aged, she would also like to try adding different enrichments as the birds grow to keep interest high.

Migration fences already used on farms is a good enrichment, according to Rinehart. Other enrichments such as small wooden structures can be added without much cost as well. The structures can be made by growers and reused many times for multiple flocks to help improve bird activity.

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Posted on November 25, 2022

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