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Demographics and practices of semi-intensive free-range farming systems in Australia with an outdoor stocking density of ≤1500 hens/hectare

Singh, Mini and Ruhnke, Isabelle and de Koning, Carolyn and Drake, Kelly and Skerman, Alan G. and Hinch, Geoff N. and Glatz, Philip C. (2017) Demographics and practices of semi-intensive free-range farming systems in Australia with an outdoor stocking density of ≤1500 hens/hectare. PLOS ONE, 12 (10). e0187057.

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Article Link(s): https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187057

Abstract

Baseline information on demographics and practices on semi-intensive free-range egg farms with an outdoor stocking density of ≤1500 hens/hectare in Australia is presented. Free-range egg production is changing the structure of the egg industry in Australia and a broad variety and tiers of free-range systems have emerged due to lack of concrete legislative standards on outdoor stocking densities in the past. Information was extracted from a pre-existing online free-range poultry survey dataset, consisting of a total of 79 questions related to nutrition, pasture management, welfare and health, animal housing, environmental impact and economics. Forty-one free-range egg farms, with an outdoor stocking density of ≤1500 hens/hectare, were identified in the dataset from all major Australian states. Two types of semi-intensive free-range housing systems were documented: mobile (modified caravan/trailer) housing (56%), and fixed sheds (44%). Seventy-two percent of respondents reported >75% of the hens in the flock used the outdoor range. All respondents reported ingestion of range components by hens in the form of vegetation, insects, stones and grit. Up to 10% mortality was reported by 40% respondents with predation (34%), cannibalism (29%), heat stress (24%) and grass impaction (19.5%) as major causes. Biosecurity on farms was sub-optimal with 8 of the 10 actions implemented by <50% respondents. Customer demand, consumer sentiment and welfare were the major factors for farmers moving into free-range egg production. This study resulted in identification of current practices and key challenges on semi-intensive free-range egg farms. Applied research and communication of results to farmers is highly recommended to ensure optimum health and welfare of free-range laying hens and sustained egg production.

Item Type:Article
Business groups:Animal Science
Subjects:Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Agriculture and the environment
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Agricultural structures. Farm buildings
Animal culture > Poultry
Animal culture > Housing and environmental control
Deposited On:10 Jan 2018 04:45
Last Modified:10 Jan 2018 04:46

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