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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Behavior of laying hens on alfalfa crumble molt diets

item Dunkley, C
item Friend, T
item Mcreynolds, Jackson
item Kim, W
item Dunkley, K
item Kubena, Leon
item Nisbet, David - Dave
item Ricke, Steven

Submitted to: Poultry Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/16/2008
Publication Date: 3/12/2008
Citation: Dunkley, C.S., Friend, T.H., McReynolds, J.L., Kim, W.K., Dunkley, K.D., Kubena, L.F., Nisbet, D.J., Ricke, S.C. 2008. Behavior of laying hens on alfalfa crumble molt diets. Poultry Science. 87:815-822.

Interpretive Summary: As animal welfare issues continue to put pressures on commercial egg laying facilities, it is imperative that we develop alternative molting diets. In the present investigation we evaluated alfalfa at 70%, 80% and 90% in combination with the respective amounts of a normal corn soy diet. The intent of our study was to further analyze the behavior of hens being fed alfalfa during an induced molt. We measured the percentages of observations performing nonnutritive pecking, feeder activity, drinking, walking, preening, head-movement and aggression. Our studies showed that all three of the alfalfa diets exhibited the same behavior patterns as full fed birds after the first three days of the molt. This data shows that some of the animal welfare issues associated with molting can be addressed by administering a supplemental diet.

Technical Abstract: Induced molting by feed withdrawal has been a common practice in the commercial layer industry and usually involves the removal of feed for a period of up to 14 days. However, this is a practice that is believed to adversely influence the welfare of the hens and there is a need to examine behavorial responses to alternative molt regimes. The behavioral patterns of hens on 90% alfalfa: 10% layer ration (A90), 80% alfalfa: 20% layer ration (A80) and 70% alfalfa: 30% layer ration (A70) molt-diets were compared with feed withdrawal (FW) hens, and full-fed (FF) hens. White Leghorn laying hen approximately 54 weeks old were placed in three identical rooms for the trial. Hens were individually housed in 2-teir battery wire cages and provided layer ration and water ad libitum. Thirty nine hens per treatment and 6 hens from each treatment were observed for behavior patterns on each day of the 9 d trial. The behavior patterns observed included nonnutritive pecking, walking, drinking, feeder activity, preening, aggression, and head movement. On the first day of the trial the A90, A80, and A70 hens were given their diet while feed was removed from the FW hens and the FF hens remained on the pre-trial diet. There were no significant differences among the treatments in walking behavior throughout the trial. Significant preening behavior was observed on d 5 and 6 when the A90 hens spent significantly more (P < 0.007) time preening than the FF hens while the other alfalfa fed groups were not significantly different from the FF hens. On d 1 of the trial the A90 hens spent significantly less (P less than or equal to 0.05) time than the FF hens in head movement and on d 9 the A80 hens spent less time than the FF hens exhibiting head movements. No other significant differences in head movement were observed between the alfalfa fed hens and the FF hens on the other days of the trial. With the exception of d 1, 8 and 9, the FF hens spent significantly more (P less than or equal to 0.05) time drinking than the other treatment groups. Nonnutritive pecking behavior increased during the trial in the FW hens and also increased in the alfalfa fed hens but after d 3 declined in all three alfalfa treatments to levels similar to the FF hens. The alfalfa fed hens displayed reduced feeder behavior at the beginning of the trial but this changed by d 4 as they increased to levels similar to the FF hens. After some initial adjustment alfalfa-layer ration molt diets appear to limit behavior activities characteristically associated with feed deprived hens such as heightened nonnutritive pecking.

Last Modified: 06/23/2017
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