Welfare of laying hens and pullets: guidance

Guidance about the needs of laying hens and pullets and how to meet these needs in accordance with good practice.

Section 2: Recommendations applying to day-old chicks and pullet rearing

211. The environment in which pullets are reared should be matched, as far as possible, to that in which they will live as adults, for example, by having similar perch and ramp provision or being reared in a multi-tiered system if that is the type of system in which they will be housed as adults. Early life experiences for the individual and the flock as a whole can affect their foraging and pecking behaviour, as well as how they respond to changes or stresses throughout their laying life. Providing increased opportunities for exercise during rearing increases bone strength. See also paragraphs 68 to 71.

212. Chicks start to peck and learn about appropriate food and pecking substrates during the first 24 hours of life. Consideration should be given to providing chicks with both food substrate and water as soon as possible after hatching; chicks should not be expected to rely on the egg yolk sac remnants as the sole source of nutrition.

Brooding (0-6 weeks)

213. Chicks are particularly susceptible to heat stress or chilling in their first few weeks of life. The building should be pre-heated for at least a day before litter is placed prior to chick arrival and the litter must be friable and should be dry.

214. The majority of chicks will arrive on the farm as day-old chicks. They need to be provided with additional heat and easy access to water and feed sources. It is important for the chick to learn quickly where feed and water sources are located.

215. The provision of dark brooders (horizontal heat sources with curtains) may improve welfare by providing the opportunity for the young chick to choose the light and temperature to which it is exposed. The chicks under the dark brooders should be inspected frequently.

Pullet rearing environment

216. The provision of enrichment during the rearing period may reduce the risk of developing abnormal and injurious behaviours during the production phase. For example, lack of experience with foraging or dustbathing material may result in ground pecks being redirected to the feathers of other laying hens in the flock. The provision of an enriched environment during the rearing period can help to ensure hens develop and transition well into an enriched laying environment.

217. Pullets should be provided with perches from 7 days of age at the latest and throughout rearing as this results in fewer broken back claws, improved bone mineral content, and improved bone strength in adult hens.

218. The intensity of the light during the light period should never be below 10 lux to allow proper inspection of birds and to avoid abnormal growth of the birds.

219. The maximum stocking density for pullets at the age of 16 weeks should be 20 kg/m2 of total usable area in both floor and multi-tier rearing systems. In addition, it is recommended that, when calculated at floor level, stocking density should not exceed 33 kg/m2 at 16 weeks in multitier systems. Increasing space allowance during rearing allows for greater movement and more opportunities for exercise, which can improve muscle and bone growth in laying hens.

Transition from rearing to laying environment

220. The environment in which pullets are reared should be matched as far as possible to their adult environment. There should be close liaison between the pullet rearer and layer site to ensure birds are reared in such a way as to reduce the stress at transition.


Email: Animal.Health@gov.scot

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