Outdoor stocking density in free-range laying hens: Radio-frequency identification of impacts on range use

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Lee, Caroline ORCID ID icon; Campbell, Dana ORCID ID icon; Dyall, Tim ORCID ID icon; Warin, L; Little, Bryce ORCID ID icon


Journal Article




The number and size of free-range laying hen (Gallus gallus domesticus) production systems are increasing within Australia in response to consumer demand for perceived improvement in hen welfare. However, variation in current housing parameters, particularly outdoor stocking density has generated consumer dissatisfaction leading to the development of a national information standard on free-range egg labelling by the Australian Commonwealth Government. The current Australian Model Code of Practice for Domestic Poultry states a guideline of 1500 hens per hectare but no maximum density is set. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking technology was used to measure daily range usage by individual ISA Brown hens housed in six small flocks (150 hens/flock – 50% of hens tagged) each with access to one of three outdoor stocking density treatments (2 replicates per treatment: 2000 hens/hectare (ha), 10 000 hens/ha, 20 000 hens/ha) from 22-26, 27-31 and 32-36 weeks of age. There was some variation in range usage across the sampling periods and by weeks 32-36 Individual hens from the lowest stocking density on average used the range for longer each day (P 0.001), with fewer visits and longer average maximum and minimum durations per visit (P 0.001). Individual hens within all stocking densities varied in the percentage of days they accessed the range with 2% of tagged hens in each treatment system never venturing outdoors and a large proportion that accessed the range daily (2000 hens/ha: 80.5%; 10 000 hens/ha: 66.5%; 20 000 hens/ha: 71.4%). On average 38 – 48% of hens were seen on the range simultaneously and used all available areas of all ranges. These results of experimental-sized flocks have implications for determining optimal outdoor stocking densities for commercial free-range laying hens but further research would be needed to determine the effects of more outdoor space on hen welfare.


laying hen; free-range; stocking density; radio-frequency identification behaviour

Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences not elsewhere classified



Journal article - Refereed


Lee, Caroline; Campbell, Dana; Dyall, Tim; Warin, L; Little, Bryce. Outdoor stocking density in free-range laying hens: Radio-frequency identification of impacts on range use. Animal. 2016; 10:1-10. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731116001154

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