Adding sand and fibres to poultry feed can prevent cannibalism among chickens because the time spent on eating is prolonged, says Dr Marinus van Krimpen from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
Wild chickens spend 60% of their time looking for food. Etiologists think that feather picking in domesticated chickens is a derived from this behaviour. However, with the high energy diets in commercial poultry farms, animals do not spend a lot of time eating anymore, which leads to boredom, feather picking and even cannibalism.
In his research, Van Krimpen ‘diluted’ conventional diets with sand and fibres, which means that the chickens spend more time finding food. The fibres also made the feed more filling for the birds. It was shown that this measure leads to a significant reduction in feather picking if the sand and fibre is provided from the beginning. “If you only give the older chickens the ‘diluted’ feed you are too late,” says Van Krimpen. “The feather picking is then already picked up by the birds.”
This study plays in on the ban on beak trimming in 2011, and the ban on caged systems in 2012. From 2012 all the chickens will be held in groups, meaning aggression will be higher and problems such as feather picking will increase.
Some poultry farmers are already using the diluted feed. The disadvantage for the farmer is that he/she has to buy a greater volume of feed. Additionally, more manure is produced.