Prevalence of nematode infection and faecal egg counts in free-range laying hens: relations to housing and husbandry

Br Poult Sci. 2013;54(1):12-23. doi: 10.1080/00071668.2012.757577.


1. Faecal samples from 19 commercial, 65 week old free-range egg laying flocks were examined to assess the prevalence and number of parasitic nematode eggs. Data were collected to characterise the housing, husbandry, behaviour and welfare of the flocks to examine possible relationships with the egg counts. 2. Eggs of at least one genus of nematode were present in the faeces of all 19 flocks. Heterakis eggs were detected in 17 (89%) flocks, Ascaridia in 16 (84%), Trichostrongylus in 9 (47%), and Syngamus in 6 (32%). Faecal egg counts (FEC) were greatest for Ascaridia and Heterakis. 3. For each nematode genus, there was no significant difference in FEC between organic (N = 9) and non-organic (N = 10) flocks, or between static (N = 8) and mobile (N = 11) flocks. 4. FEC were correlated with a range of housing, husbandry and management practices which varied between the nematode genus and included depth of the litter, percentage of hens using the range, and number of dead hens. Statistical analysis indicated relationships with FEC that included light intensity above the feeder, indoor and outdoor stocking density, fearfulness in the shed and on the range, distance to the nearest shelter, and swollen toes. 5. None of the FEC for any of the genera was correlated with weekly egg production or cumulative mortality. 6. Although nematode FEC were highly prevalent among the flocks, the overall lack of relation to other welfare and production measures suggests that these infections were not severe.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry / methods
  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Chickens / parasitology*
  • Feces / parasitology
  • Female
  • Nematode Infections / epidemiology
  • Nematode Infections / veterinary*
  • Organic Agriculture / methods
  • Parasite Egg Count
  • Poultry Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence