Environmental Enrichment Devices Decrease Feather Picking in Commercially Raised Pekin Ducks
Dr. Gregory Fraley, Hope College
Commercial Pekin ducks housed on raised plastic flooring exhibit higher levels of self-picking than those raised on litter flooring. This self-picking can lead to reduced feather quality and poor overall health of the bird. The connection between the flooring type and the feather quality is believed to exist because ducks on raised plastic flooring cannot exhibit foraging behaviors as they do on litter flooring, thus predisposing the ducks to increased feather picking when transitioning from down to adult plumage. Thus we hypothesized that giving Pekin ducks environmental enrichment devices (EEDs) would decrease feather picking and improve feather quality and duck well-being. To test this hypothesis, we offered a substitute outlet for foraging behavior by providing EED’s. The EED’s were red wiffle balls, each threaded with four zip-ties. The zip ties were either red or white to help determine if the ducks have a color preference. The EED’s were placed in barns holding with two pens of ducks, each pen holding 4000-6000 ducks from about fourteen days of age until processing at around thirty-five days of age. One half of each barn received the EEDs, the other half was used as control, thus minimizing management differences across barns. A total of 6 barns were used in this study and there were approximately 120 ducks per EED. Upon placement of EEDs, each side of the barn was observed for one hour and also video taped for another hour. These observation periods occurred twice between days 14-35. Results showed a significant (p<0.05) decrease in both self-picking and conspecific-picking (picking at neighboring ducks), and a slight, though not significant, preference for red-colored EED’s over white ones. These results suggest that providing environmental enrichment may minimize prevent feather picking and improve feather quality and duck well-being.
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