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Br Poult Sci. 2002 Jul;43(3):344-54.

Influence of light-dark schedules and stocking density on behaviour, risk of leg problems and occurrence of chronic fear in broilers.

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Department of Animal Science and Animal Health, Division of Ethology and Health, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Groennegaardsvej 8, DK-1870 Frederiksberg C, Copenhagen, Denmark.


1. The aims of this study were to determine (1) the effect of light-dark schedules on the walking ability, the risk of tibial dyschondroplasia (TD) as well as the duration of tonic immobility (TI) reactions in commercial broiler flocks and (2) the effect of a daily dark period and reduced density on the behaviour of broiler chickens. 2. Experiment 1. Group 1 had a 2 to 8 h daily dark period from 2 to 26 d of age (light-dark programme A) at a stocking density of 28.4 chicks/m2. Group 2 had 8 h of darkness daily from 2 to 38 d of age (light-dark programme B) at 24 chicks/m2. The control group had 24 h continuous light at 28.4 chicks/m2. 3. Experiment 2. Behaviour was studied with and without a daily 8 h dark period and at high (30 chicks/m2) and low (18 chicks/m2) stocking densities. 4. Programme B reduced the prevalence of impaired walking ability, corresponding to gait score > 2, when compared with controls. The effect on walking ability corresponding to gait score > 0 approached significance. 5. Both light-dark programmes reduced the occurrence of TD. Programme B (combined with reduced stocking density), however, had the greater effect. 6. Both light-dark programmes reduced the duration of TI, compared with controls (mean = 426 s) Programme B resulted in a larger reduction (alpha = -156.9 s) than programme A (alpha = -117.0). 7. The proportions of chicks drinking, eating, pecking, scratching, standing and performing vertical wing-shakes increased--both when the 8 h dark period and the reduced stocking density were applied separately and in combination (experiment 2). 8. For all behaviours, except standing, the effect of the dark period was largest in broilers kept at the high stocking density (d 40).

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