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Animals (Basel). 2017 Mar 9;7(3). pii: E21. doi: 10.3390/ani7030021.

Individual Ranging Behaviour Patterns in Commercial Free-Range Layers as Observed through RFID Tracking.

Author information

1
Animal Welfare Science Centre, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia. hlarsen@student.unimelb.edu.au.
2
School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney, Camden, NSW 2570, Australia. greg.cronin@sydney.edu.au.
3
Research Centre for Proper Housing: Poultry and Rabbits, Division of Animal Welfare, Veterinary Public Health Institute, University of Bern, 3052 Zollikofen, Switzerland. sabine.gebhardt@vetsuisse.unibe.ch.
4
Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Marsfield, NSW 2109, Australia. klynn.smith@mq.edu.au.
5
Animal Welfare Science Centre, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia. phh@unimelb.edu.au.
6
Animal Welfare Science Centre, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia. raultj@unimelb.edu.au.

Abstract

In this exploratory study, we tracked free-range laying hens on two commercial flocks with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology with the aim to examine individual hen variation in range use. Three distinct outdoor zones were identified at increasing distances from the shed; the veranda [0-2.4 m], close range [2.4-11.4 m], and far range [>11.4 m]. Hens' movements between these areas were tracked using radio frequency identification technology. Most of the hens in both flocks (68.6% in Flock A, and 82.2% in Flock B) accessed the range every day during the study. Of the hens that accessed the range, most hens accessed all three zones (73.7% in Flock A, and 84.5% in Flock B). Hens spent half of their time outdoors in the veranda area. Within-individual consistency of range use (daily duration and frequency) varied considerably, and hens which were more consistent in their daily range use spent more time on the range overall (p < 0.001). Understanding variation within and between individuals in ranging behaviour may help elucidate the implications of ranging for laying hens.

KEYWORDS:

eggs; free range; individual; pasture; poultry; radio frequency identification; time budget; variation

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