We have been working with one of our fresh chicken suppliers on a trial to investigate how we can enhance chicken welfare through the use of different environmental enrichment in housing systems. The aim of the trial was to find an enrichment material that provided the necessary benefits to animal welfare, and allowed the birds to express their natural behaviours, without becoming an unsustainable cost to the farm.
We compared new and different enrichment ideas against the current enrichment required by Red Tractor standards. The trial found that the Red Tractor standard recommendations worked well and resulted in lots of bird interaction. When looking at alternatives, there was one in particular that received a lot of interest from the birds.
The most successful enrichment material in the trial was found to be a cardboard box filled with half a bale of loose substrate, pictured here:
Compared to reusable storage methods of plastic boxes and mesh cages, the cardboard box was found to be cheaper and easier to maintain, and of much more interest to the birds, with a significantly higher rate of interaction. This is thought to be, in part, due to the lower height of the box, which meant the substrate could be accessed by the birds when they were smaller (ie younger). Previous research has shown that there are significant benefits to the birds when they can access substrate at a younger age, and it can encourage more natural behaviours such as dustbathing.