Conclusion and recommendations

A major achievement of the LayWel project has been the compilation of the database. Its structure and the collaborative discussions that led to this have been extremely valuable, and will undoubtedly influence and improve the design of future scientific studies of laying hen welfare. It has been extremely beneficial that LayWel partners representing seven countries, and with contacts in other EC countries, have worked together on designing and contributing data to the database. This will ensure a much more unified approach in the future and could lead to more collaborative projects.

The carefully structured layout of the database has enabled gaps in data availability to be clearly identified and has also indicated the type and format of data that future studies might collect. Additionally future methodology is likely to be more uniform.

In order to produce statistically valid models, more data are needed in most areas and thus the database ought to be expanded at least until sufficient data are entered to enable this. Data from in excess of 100 treatments (flocks) are generally required for modelling and this quantity could potentially be gathered within three years for many parameters.

We recommend that:

2. Integument scoring
A second major achievement of the project has been the development of feather scoring and integument (head and feet) scoring systems together with comprehensive sets of photographs. This has included developing methodology for transforming data from different scoring systems, which makes comparing different studies much easier.
We recommend:

3. Behaviour
The most important enrichment for hens is the provision of a discrete, enclosed nest site. More scientific research is needed to determine whether perching is a behavioural priority and the extent to which hens value dustbathing and need a substrate, but there is strong evidence that both are behavioural needs. The presence of apparently purposeless behaviour or of high levels of aggression or redirected behaviours such as feather pecking and cannibalism are indicators that the housing system is not satisfactory for bird welfare.
Feather pecking is still a very predominant welfare problem in commercial flocks in non cage systems with a prevalence of between 40 and 80%. The prevalence of cannibalism is lower but with up to 20% of flocks were affected in one survey and up to 40% in another.

In furnished cages about 40 to 50% of the hens perched during the day and 80 to 90% during the night. The use of perches at night was higher in the smaller compared to medium or larger furnished cages, which could be due to design differences. The use of the dustbathing area was very different for the LayWel data from four models of furnished cages. Birds reared on floor had a slightly higher dustbathing activity than cage reared birds.

We recommend that:

4. Health
We recommend that: