In conventional rearing systems, fast-growing broiler chickens commonly experience welfare issues, such as contact dermatitis, walking difficulties or a lack of expression of species-specific behaviours. Enriching their environment may be a way to improve their welfare. The objective of this study was to evaluate the benefits of elevated platforms and straw bales on the welfare of fast-growing broiler chickens reared at two different stocking densities. A total of 14,994 Ross 308 broilers were housed in 12 pens according to 4 treatments: 31 kg/m2 with or without enrichments and 41 kg/m2 with or without enrichments. The broilers' walking ability, footpad dermatitis (FPD), hock burns (HB), weight, mortality and litter quality were assessed. Stocking density had a negative effect on FPD and HB, whereas enrichments reduced the occurrence of FPD and HB at both densities. There was a positive enrichment effect and a negative density effect on body weight at 25 days and on walking ability, but no effect on the litter quality or mortality rate. These results confirm that an enriched environment improves animal welfare in confined chickens, regardless of the stocking density. Reducing stocking density clearly appears to be an important means of increasing animal welfare.
Keywords: broiler; enrichment; footpad dermatitis; hock burn; litter quality; stocking density; walking ability.