Review of rearing-related factors affecting the welfare of laying hens

Poult Sci. 2015 Jul;94(7):1454-69. doi: 10.3382/ps/pev123. Epub 2015 May 25.


Laying hens may face a number of welfare problems including: acute and chronic pain caused by beak trimming; exaggerated fearfulness that may cause stress and suffocation; difficulties in locating resources, resulting potentially in emaciation and dehydration; frustration and boredom, caused by an environment that is barren; feather pecking; cannibalism; foot lesions; and bone fractures. In Europe, a greater proportion of laying hens are housed in non-cage systems compared to the rest of the world. The extent of the different welfare problems may therefore vary between countries as the type of housing system influences the risk of suffering. More generally, many of these welfare problems are influenced by the rearing environment of the pullets. This article therefore focuses on welfare problems in laying hens that can be traced back to rearing. Factors that have been studied in relation to their effects on bird welfare include beak trimming, housing type, furnishing, enrichment, feeding, stocking density, flock size, sound and light levels, concentration of gasses, age at transfer from rearing to production facilities, similarity between rearing and production facilities, competence of staff, and interactions between bird strain and environment. The present review aims to summarize rearing-related risk factors of poor welfare in adult laying hens housed according to European Union legislation. It aims to identify gaps in current knowledge, and suggests strategies for improving bird welfare by improving rearing conditions. Two main conclusions of this work are that attempts should be made to use appropriate genetic material and that beak trimming should be limited where possible. In addition to this, the rearing system should provide constant access to appropriate substrates, perches, and mashed feed, and should be as similar as possible to the housing system used for the adult birds. Finally, young birds (pullets) should be moved to the production facilities before 16 weeks of age. The measures outlined in this review may be useful for improving the welfare of pullets and adult laying hens.

Keywords: animal welfare; behavior; laying hen; rearing conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry*
  • Animal Welfare*
  • Animals
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Risk Factors