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Molting layers--alternative methods and their effectiveness

Molting layers--alternative methods and their effectiveness

Poultry Science 86(6): 1260-1264

The molting of commercial layers has been under increased scrutiny by animal rights groups, who have said that this practice is highly stressful and one which negatively affects the welfare of the hen due to the initial period of fasting that has been used to stop egg production. In recent years, there has been a recognized need to develop practical alternatives to molting layers other than the use of fasting. Thus, the University of Illinois, University of Nebraska, North Carolina State University, and the University of California have all researched this area. In all of these studies, the methods involved comparing a normal fasting method (i. e., 5 to 13 d), to feeding low- energy and protein diets using ingredients such as wheat middlings, soybean hulls, and corn or diets with graded levels of added salt and without salt (University of Nebraska, University of California). The molt period (28 d) included full-feeding of these diets. In these studies, postmolt production performance for the nonfeed withdrawal techniques was comparable to the fasting method. Several researchers have also evaluated the behavioral repertoire of laying hens, which includes feeding, drinking, comfort, social, reproductive, and antipredator behaviors. In addition, related behaviors such as aggression, escape-avoidance, and submission have been of particular interest as potential indicators of welfare during molting. In these studies, genetic selection, strain, density, or molt program do not appear to adversely influence the behavioral patterns during the molt. The behavior patterns displayed during a molt program appear consistent with the response to physiological changes that layers experience and do not appear to compromise the welfare status of the hens. Appetitive behaviors were not affected by strain but were affected by production phase and molting. Strain or production phase did not influence the frequency of aggressive and submissive acts. Thus, the use of alternative nonfeed withdrawal molting methods provide comparable laying hen well-being and may enhance the transition from a productive to a resting state.

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Accession: 013763252

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PMID: 17495103

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