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Why‐Oh‐Why? Dark Brooders Reduce Injurious Pecking, Though Are Still Not Widely Used in Commercial Rearing of Layer Pullets

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DOI

  • Janja Sirovnik, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
  • ,
  • Anja B. Riber

Dark brooders, i.e., horizontal heating elements for chicks equipped with curtains, mimic some aspects of maternal care, such as the provision of heat and a dark area for chicks to rest. Thus, they can be considered as artificial passive replacements of a mother hen. Despite their advantages in animal welfare and the likely positive outcomes in production and economy, dark brooders are rarely used in commercial layer pullet facilities. The main positive effect on welfare is a reduction of injurious pecking during the rearing and laying periods, which results in improved feather cover and reduced skin injuries and mortality due to cannibalism. Other welfare benefits include improved rest in dark‐brooded chicks and reduced fearfulness at all ages tested (i.e., from 4 to 26 weeks). The impact on production and economy is seen in a reduction of the energy costs in the first weeks of life due to radiant heating, as well as improved total egg production and reduced floor egg laying. The aim of this paper is to review the existing literature on the effects of dark brooders on injurious pecking and other welfare issues in layers, including speculations on the possible explanations for improved welfare. We also discuss the possible reasons for why dark brooders are not applied more commonly in commercial practice, including insufficient information on the economic aspects of using brooders and the lack of commercially available brooder options.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1276
JournalAnimals
Volume12
Issue10
Number of pages12
ISSN2076-2615
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

    Research areas

  • behaviour, chicken, fear, feather pecking, laying hen, maternal care

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