Toe pecking in layers is becoming an increasingly serious welfare problem, prompting the launch of a 3-year research programme in Switzerland.
Scientists believe the problem appears to be intensifying and represents a major issue for hens within cage-free housing where up to 50% of the flock may be affected. Despite the extent of the problem, most information collected is anecdotal, making the development of interventions difficult.
The project, based at the Centre for Proper Housing: Poultry and Rabbits within the Division of Animal Welfare at the University of Bern, will serve to identify potential risk factors as well as whether toe pecking results from self or allo-pecking, or a combination of both. It has backing from Dutch and German collaborators.
Damaging pecking may occur during rearing period of pullets as well as during the laying period, even though it is more prevalent during laying. Severe feather pecking, leading to feather loss, can result in economic losses because of increased food consumption in de-feathered birds and increased mortality, as well as reduced animal welfare.
Hens with feather damage are more susceptible to cannibalistic pecking.