Even though our laying hens are mainly from free-range systems, when hens are not out on the range (due to time of day, inclement weather etc), we wanted to be able to understand what enrichment products would be needed inside the shed to help them express their natural behaviours. It was also aimed to understand what best practice advice we could establish with our farms to help on the journey to keep beaks intact.
The trial has meant the introduction of a wide range of enrichment materials, such as rope, pecking blocks, lucerne bales, chains, plastic toys, cardboard egg boxes and even traffic cones. Initial observations from the trial showed some significant differences between the levels of interaction with certain materials. For example, it appears that little interest was shown in chains, while lucerne bales and traffic cones are of great interest to the birds.
One key point of this trial is to try to find an enrichment material that adds real value to the flock, but does not burden the farm with unsustainable costs. Some great innovation has been shown by our farmers to prolong the life of materials such as lucerne, by storing them in hay nets at one site, while another placed a bale inside an empty water butt, drilling holes in the sides to allow the birds access to the material inside.
Sites involved in the trial attend meetings with the Morrisons Agriculture team and the University of Bristol to discuss and compare their observations, and look at next steps. The trial is ongoing, with full data analysis and presentation of results yet to be completed.