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Production-Related Traits of Layers Reared in Different Sized Flocks - The Concept of Problematic Intermediate Group Sizes

by 5m Editor
21 September 2003, at 12:00am

By L. J. Keeling, M. G. Correia, Department of Animal Environment and Health, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, I. Estevez, Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, University of Maryland, and R. C. Newberry, Center for the Study of Animal Well-being, Washington State University.

Production-Related Traits of Layers Reared in Different Sized Flocks - The Concept of Problematic Intermediate Group Sizes - By L. J. Keeling, M. G. Correia, Department of Animal Environment and Health, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, I. Estevez, Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, University of Maryland, and R. C. Newberry, Center for the Study of Animal Well-being, Washington State University.

Abstract

Laying hens were reared from 1 d of age in four replicates each of four different group sizes: 15, 30, 60, and 120 birds. To maintain stocking density at a constant 5 birds/m2, they were housed in litter floor pens of 3, 6, 12, and 24 m2, respectively.

The allocation of feeder space, drinker nipples, and perch space was also constant per bird, irrespective of group size, as was the arrangement of resources in the pens. Birds were individually weighed at 3, 7, 12, 15, and 18 wk of age, and comb length and height were measured with calipers.

At 24 and 39 wk, a sample of 30 eggs from each pen was weighed to determine mean egg weight. Results show a significant effect of group size on BW, with birds in the groups of 30 and 120 being lighter than birds in groups of 15 and 60.

Eggs from birds in groups of 30 were significantly smaller than those from birds in the other group sizes. Comb size was unaffected by group size. We propose that these results support the theory that the hierarchical social structure based on individual recognition in small groups breaks down in large groups as birds become less aggressive and more tolerant.

The results suggest that this transition occurs at a group size of around 30 birds, and that this `intermediate' group size presents social problems for birds which, in turn, has consequences for production. The practical implication of this research is to avoid keeping birds in flocks of this size.

The study is published in Poultry Science 82:1393-1396, September 2003 edition

Source: Poultry Science - September 2003