Mussel shells as an environment enrichment and calcium source for floor-housed laying hens1

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Abstract

Feather pecking is still a behavioral problem in laying hen flocks, resulting in impaired welfare and economic losses. Environment enrichment, e.g., providing access to litter, to increase foraging behavior in laying hens has been shown to decrease feather pecking. This study investigated the effect of spreading crushed mussel shells (particle size 10 to 20 mm) in the litter area as an environment enrichment and source of calcium for layers receiving a commercial feed and for layers given a feed with 40% less calcium. These treatments were compared with a control involving hens given the commercial feed, but no mussel shells in the litter. The study included 900 Dekalb White layers housed in a single-tier floor system during a production cycle (20 to 72 wk of age). The mussel shells were consumed to a lower extent than predicted, resulting in calcium deficiency in hens fed the low-calcium diet. This in turn was evident as increased degree of keel bone deviations and lower eggshell breaking strength. Daily addition of crushed mussel shells to the litter for laying hens on a balanced or calcium-deficient diets did not generate any positive effects on bird feather cover, eggshell quality, production performance, or fearfulness. Hence, with the particle size of mussel shells used in this study, there was no indication of improved welfare due to environment enrichment.

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