Reducing fear in hens

by Editor fleischwirtschaft.com
Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dr Lauren Edwards undertook her PhD, titled “The human-animal relationship in the caged laying hen”, with support from the first round Australian Poultry CRC (2003-2009) at the Animal Welfare Science Centre. Her research results suggest that the human-animal relationship is very important for the welfare of laying hens.

The research has focussed on relationships between hen avoidance behaviour (as an indicator of fear of humans) and the behaviour and attitude of stockpersons on egg farms. This research has demonstrated that by using non-threatening behaviour around the hens, stockpersons can help poultry overcome their innate fear of humans and improve their welfare.

The laying hens displayed greater avoidance behaviour in laying houses where the stockpeople made more noise, and less avoidance behaviour in laying houses where stockpeople spent more time standing still in front of the cages. That is, the attitudes of stockpeople toward their work were associated with behaviours that directly influenced fear of humans in their hens.

Further experimental research results have consistently suggested that close proximity of visual human contact is effective in reducing the behavioural response of hens to human contact. Interestingly, the duration of human contact was found not to be a significant factor.

For industry, the outcomes of this research are simple and easy to adapt into everyday practice. By keeping the amount of noise that they make to a minimum, and by working closely to the birds in a calm and non-threatening manner, stockpeople will be able to reduce the level of fear that their flock experiences. A calmer flock is more pleasant to work with, and may be beneficial for productivity.
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