Evaluation of welfare parameters in laying hens on the basis of a Bavarian survey
Health issues like infestation with poultry red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) and behavioral problems such as feather pecking and cannibalism are reported as current problems on laying hen farms. However, the epidemiological prevalence of these issues in Bavaria, Germany, is not known. The objective of the present survey was to determine the epidemiological prevalence of health and behavioral parameters and the management of hen farms in practice. The survey was sent to all laying hen farmers with more than 1,000 hens in Bavaria, Germany, and contained questions regarding flock management, behavior problems and health issues. The response rate was 40.8% and surveys were answered regarding 293 individual flocks on 147 farms. Three-quarters (77.6%) of the respondents housed their hens under conventional conditions. Farming system had an influence (P ≤ 0.05) on several management measures and the hens' behavior. An infestation of the flocks with poultry red mite was stated in 65.7%, whereby a relationship existed with the farming system (P = 0.001) and the provision of an additional dust bath (P ≤ 0.001). The occurrence of feather pecking (18.5%) was related with the farming system (P = 0.001), the presence of roosters (P = 0.034), the locking of laying hens into the aviary (P = 0.006), not allowing access to the entire litter space after housing (P = 0.044) and nervous (P = 0.002) or chasing behavior (P ≤ 0.001) of laying hens. Similarly, cannibalism (15.0%) was related with locking hens into the aviary system (P ≤ 0.001) and not allowing access to the entire litter space (P = 0.026). According to these results, farmers should avoid locking the hens into the aviary or not allowing access to the entire litter space, because these measures relate to nervous behavior that may result in feather pecking or cannibalism. The provision of an additional dust bath is one of the management measures that can positively influence hens' health and behavior.