The LayWel project: Welfare implications of changes in production systems for laying hens

World's Poultry Science Journal (Impact Factor: 1.09). 03/2007; 63(01). DOI: 10.1017/S0043933907001328
Source: OAI


The conditions under which laying hens are kept remain a major animal welfare concern. It is one of the most intensive forms of animal production and the number of animals involved is very high. Widespread public debate has stimulated the call for more animal friendly, alternative systems to barren conventional cages. Directive 1999/74/EC has encouraged technical changes in current systems. Not only have traditional cages been modified (so-called ‘enriched cages’), but also new alternative systems (e.g. aviaries) have been developed. There is an ongoing need to evaluate the actual welfare status of hens in these novel systems including those on commercial farms.The LayWel project, was funded via the European Commission's Sixth Framework Programme and national funding from several EU countries. Its general objective was to produce an evaluation of the welfare of laying hens in various systems, with special focus on enriched cages, and to disseminate the information in all member states of the EU and associated countries. The project took into account pathological, zootechnical, physiological and ethological aspects.A major achievement of the LayWel project was the compilation of a database collecting data from different housing systems and thus enabling data comparison. The project partners recommend that support is given to maintaining the database in the future so that data can be more reliably modelled.As the type of data collected did not often allow a formal statistical analysis the evaluation of welfare was a presentation of risk factors and advantages and disadvantages of various housing systems. Conclusions are that, with the exception of conventional cages, all systems have the potential to provide satisfactory welfare for laying hens. However this potential is not always realised in practice. Among the numerous explanations are management, climate, design, different responses by different genotypes and interacting effects.A second major achievement of the project was the development of feather scoring and integument (skin, head and feet) scoring systems together with comprehensive sets of photographs.It is recommended that the integument scoring systems are widely adopted and used in on-going research. Farms should also routinely and frequently carry out integument scoring to assist in the detection of damaging pecking, which is currently a widespread welfare problem.Within LayWel an on-farm auditing procedure was developed in the form of a manual for self-assessment. The manual first explains what is meant by welfare and outlines the relevance of welfare assessment. It also summarises risks to welfare in the main categories of housing system. The second part contains recording forms, with guidance for assessing hen welfare. These enable regular checks of a range of indicators of laying hen welfare to be carried out systematically. The indicators were chosen to be relevant to hen welfare as well as feasible and reliable to apply in practice.A series of conclusions and recommendations were made on various aspects of housing systems, behaviour, health and mortality and other matters in relation to bird welfare. Full details of these and all other aspects of the LayWel project can be found on The information is also available on CDROM of which copies are freely available on request.

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Available from: Werner Bessei
    • "Bumble foot is considered to be painful and critically impairs the hen's welfare (Lay et al., 2011). In general, the housing system (e.g., cage vs. non-cage), perching behavior, wet litter, scratching, perch and flooring material, and poor foot hygiene have been identified as causes of these foot health problems (Tauson and Abrahamsson, 1994, 1996; Wang et al., 1998; Weitzenbürger et al., 2006; Blokhuis et al., 2007; Röngen et al., 2008; Shimmura et al., 2010; Lay et al., 2011). Nevertheless, specific information on risk factors within aviary systems for these foot problems remains scarce. "
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    ABSTRACT: Aviary systems for laying hens offer space and opportunities to perform natural behaviors. However, hen welfare can be impaired due to increased risk for keel bone and foot pad disorders in those systems. This cross-sectional study (N = 47 flocks) aimed to assess prevalences of keel bone and foot pad disorders in laying hens housed in aviaries in Belgium to identify risk factors for these disorders and their relation to egg production. Information on housing characteristics and egg production were obtained through questionnaire-based interviews, farm records, and measurements in the henhouse. Keel bone (wounds, hematomas, fractures, deviations) and foot pad disorders (dermatitis, hyperkeratosis) were assessed in 50 randomly selected 60-week-old laying hens per flock. A linear model with stepwise selection procedure was used to investigate associations between risk factors, production parameters, and the keel bone and foot pad disorders. The flock mean prevalences were: hematomas 41.2%, wounds 17.6%, fractures 82.5%, deviations 58.9%, hyperkeratosis 42.0%, dermatitis 27.6%, and bumble foot 1.2%. Identified risk factors for keel bone disorders were aviary type (row vs. portal), tier flooring material (wire mesh vs. plastic slats), corridor width, nest box perch, and hybrid. Identified risk factors for foot pad disorders were aviary type (row vs. portal), free-range, and hybrid. Percentage of second-quality eggs was negatively associated with keel bone deviations (P = 0.029) at the flock level. Keel bone and foot pad disorders were alarmingly high in aviary housing. The identification of various risk factors suggests improvements to aviary systems may lead to better welfare of laying hens.
    No preview · Article · Dec 2015 · Poultry Science
    • "Before conventional cages were banned, they were the most prevalent housing system in the EU (Blokhuis et al., 2007). This legislation has represented a major change for the entire egg producing industry. "
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    ABSTRACT: On 1 January 2012, conventional cages for laying hens were banned in the European Union (EU); all egg farmers must now use alternative hen housing systems. In total, 218 Flemish egg farmers were surveyed in 2013 to 2014 regarding which housing systems they currently use, their degree of satisfaction with the system, and how they experienced the transition from conventional cages to an alternative system. The response rate was 58.3% (127 respondents). Of these, 43 (33.9%) were no longer active as an egg farmer, mainly due to the ban on conventional cages. The respondents who were active as egg farmers both before and after the transition (84, 66.1%) mainly judged the ban as negative for their own finances and for the competitive position of the Belgian egg industry, but were neutral or positive regarding the general consequences for their own business. Most respondents' hens were housed in either aviary systems (47.7%) or in alternative cage systems (38.2%). When choosing a new system, the fit into the farm and consumer demand were the most important factors. Consumer demand was the main reason for choosing a system with free-range access. In general, egg farmers were satisfied with the system they chose, although this differs between systems. When asked to compare the alternative systems to conventional cages, alternatives were judged to be better for hen welfare and consumer demand, but similar or worse for all other aspects, especially labor. Egg farmers previously using conventional cages judged alternative systems more negatively than those who had no prior experience with conventional cages. Farmers who had experience with free-range systems judged these more positively than those without this experience, e.g., for egg consumer demand, profitability, and hen welfare. These results can possibly be extrapolated to other EU countries in which conventional cages were the most common housing system until 2012, and lessons can be drawn from the farmers' experiences when implementing other animal welfare legislation that may require similar far-reaching adaptations for primary production.
    No preview · Article · Nov 2015 · Poultry Science
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    • "If a covered veranda or a free-range area was present, an approximate representative number within the sample of 50 birds was scored in those areas . Plumage conditions of 5 body parts (neck, back, wings, tail, vent) were scored on an ordinal 4-point scale, adapted from the LayWel project (Tauson et al., 2005b; Blokhuis et al., 2007). For the wings, the wing with the worst plumage condition was scored. "
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    ABSTRACT: Feather pecking and high mortality levels are significant welfare problems in non-cage housing systems for laying hens. The aim of this study was to identify husbandry-related risk factors for feather damage, mortality, and egg laying performance in laying hens housed in the multi-tier non-cage housing systems known as aviaries. Factors tested included type of system flooring, degree of red mite infestation, and access to free-range areas. Information on housing characteristics, management, and performance in Belgian aviaries (N = 47 flocks) were obtained from a questionnaire, farm records, and farm visits. Plumage condition and pecking wounds were scored in 50 randomly selected 60-week-old hens per flock. Associations between plumage condition, wounds, performance, mortality, and possible risk factors were investigated using a linear model with a stepwise model selection procedure. Many flocks exhibited a poor plumage condition and a high prevalence of wounds, with considerable variation between flocks. Better plumage condition was found in wire mesh aviaries (P < 0.001), in aviaries with no red mite infestation (P = 0.004), and in free-range systems (P = 0.011) compared to plastic slatted aviaries, in houses with red mite infestations, and those without a free-range area. Furthermore, hens in aviaries with wire mesh flooring had fewer wounds on the back (P = 0.006) and vent (P = 0.009), reduced mortality (P = 0.003), and a better laying performance (P = 0.013) as compared to hens in aviaries with plastic slatted flooring. Flocks with better feather cover had lower levels of mortality (P < 0.001). Red mite infestations were more common in plastic slatted aviaries (P = 0.043). Other risk factors associated with plumage condition were genotype, number of diet changes, and the presence of nest perches. Wire mesh flooring in particular seems to have several health, welfare, and performance benefits in comparison to plastic slats, possibly related to decreased feather pecking, better hygiene, and fewer red mite infestations. This suggests that adjustments to the aviary housing design may further improve laying hen welfare and performance. © 2015 Poultry Science Association Inc.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2015 · Poultry Science
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