Poultry International - July 2017 - 21
PoultryInternational ❙ 21
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for cage-free eggs
How to engage the birds
All chicken farmers can make simple changes, or
get creative with items found on their farm, to engage
their animals' natural curiosity.
Brunnquell said the road to good engagement starts
in the pullet house. He said as young as four days old,
pullets can start learning to interact with engagements
in their housing. For instance, Egg Innovations uses
rods in its pullet houses to teach pullets how to perch.
Perching trains the birds how to jump up and down,
and further down the line helps promote evenness of
the flock by giving less dominant birds a way to avoid
more dominant birds.
Another key engagement is the scratch area which,
he said, must be wide enough for the birds to actually
use them for scratching. Additionally, litter needs to be
present in the area, but it must be shallow enough that
the birds do not see it as a nesting area and start dropping floor eggs in the scratch area.
Scratching can help wear down the hens' claws.
Similarly, birds can also be given objects to peck at that
can blunt their beaks. One Egg Innovations farmer uses
a stone wheel with feed placed on top of it so birds can
forage for food and shorten their beaks at the same time.
Inside and outside the house, birds should be given
curiosity objects that stimulate them and give them
something to do. Egg Innovations encourages its farmJuly 2017 ❙ www.WATTAgNet.com
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ers to get creative, and they've hung old compact disks
or swings inside the houses to give the birds something
to play with. One even used a soda bottle drilled with
holes and filled with oats to get the birds engaged.
Outside, birds want to be engaged in three dimensions. Free-range farmers used to think shade and water
were enough, but Egg Innovations learned that curiosity
and engagement are valuable outside as well. Birds, of
course, want a place to hide if they spot a predator, but
they also want things to crawl under, perch on and jump
over. Again, it doesn't need to be complex. Fallen tree
limbs or hay bales are sufficient, he said.
Farmers must also remember what looks good to a
human farmer - a mowed pasture used to collect farm
income - doesn't look good to a chicken. The birds
want dense, deep vegetation. The birds know to come
home to the safety of the barn at night.
Farmers and flock managers must also change their
own behavior to keep birds engaged and active inside
the house. He encouraged farmers to make a little noise
while walking the house in order to make birds less
afraid of loud noises and disturbances when they are in
the pasture. Additionally, farmers should try walking in
different directions or wearing different colors at different times of the day. All of these management practices
help build up a flock's stress tolerance. The more their
environment changes, the calmer they are. ■