Food, wood, or plastic as substrates for dustbathing and foraging in laying hens: A preference test

Scholz, Britta GND; Urselmans, Stefanie GND; Kjaer, Joergen GND; Schrader, Lars GND

The provision for dustbathing material will be a legal requirement in cage-housing systems for laying hens within the European Union beginning in 2012. At present, food particles are widely used and typically offered in small amounts on Astroturf mats one or more times per day to facilitate dustbathing, pecking, and scratching. In the present study, we compared layers' preference for food and 3 other (nonnutritive) substrates for foraging and dustbathing. In each of 2 identical trials, 72 hens of 2 genotypes (Lohmann Selected Leghorn and Lohmann Brown) were kept in 12 compartments (6 hens each). Compartments were equipped with a plastic grid floor and additionally contained 4 different dustbathing trays (each 1,000 cm2/hen) holding either wood shavings (WS), lignocellulose (LN, soft wood fiber, pelleted), Astroturf mat without substrate (AT), or food particles (FP). Hens were housed from 18 wk of age and video recordings were done at wk 21, 24, and 27. Time spent and frequency of dustbathing, duration of a single dustbath (DB), frequency of foraging behavior, and relative frequency and duration of behavioral patterns within a single DB were recorded during the light period over 2 d in each observation week. The FP treatment was preferred for foraging over WS, LN, and AT. Time spent dustbathing and number of DB were higher in LN compared with WS, FP, and AT, whereas average duration of a single DB was longer in FP compared with LN and WS. More vertical wing shakes and scratching bouts within a single DB were observed in LN compared with AT. Bill raking occurred more frequently in WS and LN in comparison to FP and AT. No differences in the relative durations of behavioral patterns within a single DB were found. In conclusion, FP were preferred for foraging but not for dustbathing, indicating that FP may not be an optimal dustbathing substrate for laying hens.

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Scholz, Britta / Urselmans, Stefanie / Kjaer, Joergen / et al: Food, wood, or plastic as substrates for dustbathing and foraging in laying hens: A preference test. 2010.

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