Managing the feed on farm
How the hens are fed during the rearing and laying periods can have profound effect on the risk on injurious pecking. Key factors to consider are:
The form in which the food is given may affect the time hens spend eating. A mash diet should be given to the hens rather than pellets as it increases the time spent eating and therefore decreases the risk of injurious pecking. There is a strong association between feeding the hens pelleted feed and problems of severe feather pecking. Very few producers now feed their birds a pellet diet because of this risk.
Reducing chain feeds
It has now been recognised that the timings of the chain feeder runs should allow a larger gap in the middle of the day to ensure the smaller less ‘tasty’ but nutritionally rich finer feed particles are eaten. This should also encourage the birds to range more as the sound of the chain feeder can often bring them in off the range. It is important however to make sure the birds are never short of feed, as hunger can trigger injurious pecking.
Minimising diet changes
Changing diets can be an unavoidable part of keeping hens. However, this change can be a source of stress for the hens. Several studies have shown an association between diet changes and injurious pecking. One study found that with every diet change the risk of injurious pecking occurring in the flock increased 62 fold. This could be explained by the fact that the hens experience a change from a palatable diet to an unpalatable diet, or they are not at the correct weight when the change is brought about, or diet change includes lower protein content.
If diet change is unavoidable try to ensure feed changes do not occur repeatedly over a short time as the cumulative stress may induce injurious pecking.
When changing diet place extra enrichments, such as straw bales or hanging rope in the house around the time of the diet change to occupy the hens. Scattering or providing pans of feed filled with the previous ration will help make the diet change a more gradual process.