Welfare risk assessment in different housing systems

The risks to welfare for the main systems of laying hen housing are colour coded according to the ‘traffic light system’ in Table 7.7. These risks have been assessed by using evidence-based expert opinion from the EFSA report and updated using evidence from our LayWel database. We have included some production parameters that were measured in LayWel studies, and which do not necessarily indicate welfare, but which may be associated with reduced welfare as indicated in WP6. Where there is insufficient evidence to make a risk assessment, cells have been left uncoloured.

Please note that the risk of poor welfare is being indicated. Thus in some cases it is possible for flocks within housing systems where an indicator is coloured red or orange to actually achieve good welfare. The table is not labelling systems as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in terms of welfare.

Welfare in best current practice
Table 7.8 gives figures for some practical welfare indicators in different systems of laying hen housing, using data from replicated recent studies, principally from the LayWel database. Data from studies with fewer than two replicates were excluded, irrespective of the number of birds in the study. It is accepted that some of these figures may be rapidly superseded as system development, management and commercial practice change. For each parameter, the data given are the best values from commercial or experimental studies. Again there are still gaps to be filled in our knowledge of the welfare impact of different housing systems, particularly in terms of bird use of the facilities.

Key welfare indicators
The studies and reviews of the other WPs have found the following list of welfare indicators to currently be the most practicable and relevant for measuring laying hen welfare. These indicators have been frequently measured in studies to date, although it is hoped that future studies will encompass a broader range of indicators. Where possible they are animal-based measures that reflect what is important to the laying hen. Most are robust in terms of reliability and feasibility for measuring in commercial units. By monitoring these indicators hen welfare may be improved if action is taken to improve the underlying problems (some examples are given). These key welfare indicators form the basis for the self-assessment of laying hen welfare on farm (the manual for task 7.2) and are used for table 7.8.