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Play behaviour, fear responses and activity levels in commercial broiler chickens provided with preferred environmental enrichments

  • M. Baxter (a1), C. L. Bailie (a1) and N. E. O’Connell (a1)

Abstract

There is currently a lack of research investigating the effectiveness of commercial broiler enrichments, and in particular the ability of these additions to create opportunities for positive welfare. One aim of this study was to investigate whether offering broiler chickens enrichments that have recently been found to be preferred leads to increased levels of activity. A second aim was to investigate the emotional effects of provision of these enrichments by assessing levels of fearfulness and play-like activity. Commercially housed broilers were assigned to treatment houses containing either: (1) platform perches, (2) platform perches+peat dust baths, (3) no enrichment (control). Activity levels and play behaviours in unenriched areas of the house were measured in weeks 3, 4 and 5. Levels of active behaviours, such as foraging and locomotion, were determined from video recordings of undisturbed birds in unenriched areas of the house. To stimulate play-like behaviours an observer walked through the birds, displacing them and creating a space. The broilers using the space were then filmed for 5 min and the occurrences of frolicking, sparring and food-running were recorded. Fearfulness of broilers in unenriched areas of the house, and also when using enrichments, was measured using observer avoidance tests in week 5. We found that creating space among the broilers was a successful method of stimulating play (largely sparring and frolicking), with play being observed in 93% of videos, however the presence of enrichments did not have an effect on the level of play recorded (P>0.05). There was also no treatment effect on activity levels of broilers in unenriched areas (P>0.05), however levels of overall activity decreased as broilers aged. Compared with the control, flight distances in unenriched areas were significantly lower in the perches+dust bath treatment (P=0.026), and were numerically lower in the perches treatment. This suggests a reduction in fearfulness with increased environmental complexity, and thus possible welfare benefits. It is suggested that further research should investigate whether increasing the level of provision of these enrichments leads to more marked improvements in welfare.

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