Access to barrier perches improves behavior repertoire in broilers

PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e29826. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029826. Epub 2012 Jan 27.


Restriction of behavioral opportunities and uneven use of space are considerable welfare concerns in modern broiler production, particularly when birds are kept at high densities. We hypothesized that increased environmental complexity by provision of barrier perches would help address these issues by encouraging perching and enhancing use of the pen space across a range of stocking densities. 2,088 day-old broiler chicks were randomly assigned to one of the following barrier and density treatment combinations over four replications: simple barrier, complex barrier, or control (no barrier) and low (8 birds/m(2)), moderate (13 birds/m(2)), or high (18 birds/m(2)) density. Data were collected on focal birds via instantaneous scan sampling from 2 to 6 weeks of age. Mean estimates per pen for percent of observations seen performing each behavior, as well as percent of observations in the pen periphery vs. center, were quantified and submitted to an analysis of variance with week as the repeated measure. Barrier perches, density and age affected the behavioral time budget of broilers. Both simple and complex barrier perches effectively stimulated high perching rates. Aggression and disturbances were lower in both barrier treatments compared to controls (P<0.05). Increasing density to 18 birds/m(2) compared to the lower densities suppressed activity levels, with lower foraging (P<0.005), decreased perching (P<0.0001) and increased sitting (P = 0.001) earlier in the rearing period. Disturbances also increased at higher densities (P<0.05). Use of the central pen area was higher in simple barrier pens compared to controls (P<0.001), while increasing density above 8 birds/m(2) suppressed use of the central space (P<0.05). This work confirms some negative effects of increasing density and suggests that barrier perches have the potential to improve broiler welfare by encouraging activity (notably by providing accessible opportunities to perch), decreasing aggression and disturbances, and promoting more even distribution of birds throughout the pen space.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aggression / physiology
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Architectural Accessibility* / methods
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Environment
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Population Density
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology