Associations between and development of welfare indicators in organic layers

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The retail market share of organic eggs in Denmark is high, and the consumers expect high animal welfare standards in the organic production. Documentation of animal welfare is important, however, knowledge about the associations between animal-based welfare indicators is limited. The aims of the study were to investigate the associations between selected welfare indicators at two ages (peak and end of lay), and to examine the development with age of the chosen welfare indicators. The chosen welfare indicators were Ascaridia galli (roundworm) infection, Heterakis sp. (caecal worm) infection, keel bone damages, back feathering, body feathering, foot damages, comb colour and wounds on the body. An observational study with 12 organic egg farms was conducted in 2012 and 2013 with a total of 214 hens assessed individually at the peak and the end of lay. Insufficient data were obtained on helminth infection at the peak of lay. At the end of lay, all helminth infected hens were positive for A. galli, and only three of them had in addition a Heterakis sp. infection. Foot damages, pale combs and wounds on the body occurred at frequencies <5% and were therefore, together with the prevalence of Heterakis sp. infection, left out of the analysis of associations. A graphical model was used to analyse the associations between the remaining clinical welfare indicators, A. galli infection, housing systems and age of the hens at end of lay. A. galli infection was only directly associated with back feathering at end of lay (P = 0.011) with an increased incidence of A. galli infection in hens with good back feathering. Between the two visits, the prevalence of hens with keel bone damages increased (P<0.001), and the plumage condition deteriorated (P<0.001), whereas the number of hens with plantar abscess (P = 0.037) and pale combs (P = 0.020) decreased. No significant differences were found for other foot damages or for skin damage. In conclusion, back feathering at end of lay provided information about a possible helminth infection, but this is not a useful indicator in daily on-farm management. In addition, evidence was found that the deterioration of the plumage condition with age was not only due to accumulation of damage over time.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal
Volume10
Issue6
Pages (from-to)953-960
Number of pages8
ISSN1751-7311
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Research areas

  • Ascaridia galli, laying hen, organic egg production, welfare indicator

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