Effects of outdoor stocking density on growth, feather damage and behavior of slow-growing free-range broilers

Hannah N. Phillips, Bradley J. Heins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Access to pasture is a main benefit of free-range broiler housing systems, yet the level of outdoor stocking density on broiler animal welfare remains unsettled. The growth, feather damage, pasture ranging and behaviors were assessed for 150 mixed-sex, slow-growing Freedom Rangers from 5 to 11 weeks of age of with free access to either a high outdoor stocking density pasture (0.5 m2 per bird) or a low outdoor stocking density pasture (2.5 m2 per bird). The probability (mean, 95% CI) of tail feather damage was greater for the high-density (23.1%, 16.3 to 31.7%) compared to the low-density group (11.9%, 7.1 to 19.3%). The percent of observations resulting in sunbathing and aggressive attacks (i.e., pecking and fighting behaviors) were greater for the high-density (1.0%, 0.6 to 1.8% and 0.5%, 0.2 to 1.3%, respectively) compared to the low-density group (0.3%, 0.1 to 0.7% and 0.1%, 0.0 to 0.4%, respectively). Furthermore, an interaction between treatment and age indicated that birds in the high-density group displayed greater stretching (during weeks 7 to 10) and panting (during weeks 6 and 9). Results of this study suggest that additional outdoor pasture space may be positively associated with broiler welfare.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number688
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalAnimals
Volume11
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 4 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This work is supported by Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) [grant no. 2016-51300-25734/project accession no. 1010693] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

Keywords

  • Behavior
  • Broilers
  • Free-range
  • Outdoor stocking density
  • Ranging
  • Welfare

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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