Articles | Volume 58, issue 1
09 Mar 2015
 | 09 Mar 2015

Effects of age at first access to range area on pecking behaviour and plumage quality of free-range layer chickens

M. Petek, E. Topal, and E. Cavusoglu

Abstract. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of age on pecking behaviour and plumage quality of free-range laying hens during first access to range. Six hundred 16-week-old layer pullets obtained from a commercial company were housed in a experimental free-range house. The experimental house consisted of a slat-and-litter floor with range area and was divided into three similar pens. The pullets were randomly assigned to a control and two experimental groups according to age at first access to range area. The birds were allowed into the range area for the first time at 18, 20 and 22 weeks of age in the groups of treatment I, treatment II and control, respectively. Pecking behaviour and plumage quality of the birds were measured for 8-week intervals from 24 to 48 weeks of age. Total feather damage significantly increased with age in all groups (P < 0.040, P < 0.006, P < 0.001). Compared to the control group, birds allowed into the range area earlier had less feather damage. The feather score of the tail body region in all groups was significantly greater (more damage) than in the others (P < 0.001). There were no significant differences for the total pecking behaviour of the birds in the groups at 24, 32, 40 and 48 weeks of age. Incidents of gentle feather pecking in every period were more frequent, while aggressive pecking was less frequent (P < 0.026, P < 0.007, P < 0.001). It can be said that access to range area as early as possible at the beginning of the laying period may be useful to reduce the negative effect of feather pecking in free-range layer chickens.