An ethological approach to determining housing requirements of gamebirds in raised laying units
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Each year, the UK rears around 20–30 million pheasants and 3–6 million red-legged partridges for shooting purposes. However, welfare organisations and some members of the gamebird industry itself have raised concerns about the use of raised laying units for breeding gamebirds. Although the proportion of breeding gamebirds kept in raised systems is relatively low there is some evidence that numbers may be increasing yet the incidence and severity of the challenges to gamebird welfare when housed in raised cages has never previously been assessed. Concern has also been raised over the ethics of confining semi-wild birds in barren cages as gamebirds are deliberately bred to retain their semi-wild behaviour which may be related to flying characteristics. The Farm Animal Welfare Committee and some sections of the gamebird industry have voiced concerns that such systems are incompatible with their ethical values, suggesting that the welfare of gamebirds in cages justifies rigorous assessment. Currently, an assessment of whether cage-based breeding systems meet duty of care requirements is constrained by a lack of understanding regarding the needs of captive gamebirds. Identifying the birds’ needs is a necessary step in defining what constitutes suitable enrichment for breeding gamebirds to optimise both welfare and animal production. Any caged-laying environment must therefore take into account the breeding ecology of the species in question and, importantly, allow the birds to display behaviours necessary to maintain health and welfare. This is the first review to examine the behavioural ecology and, specifically, the breeding systems, of the ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) and red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufus) with the aim of highlighting areas where a species-specific behaviour would indicate a requirement for a specific resource to be made available to the birds. This review highlighted possible behavioural needs for resources targeting foraging behaviours, foot and claw function, suitable materials for dustbathing and privacy areas where birds can lay eggs or escape social pressures. These behavioural needs may be met by furnishing cages with a suitable type of solid floor and perching apparatus for enabling natural foot and claw function, by provision of dustbathing material to satisfy both dustbathing and foraging behaviour and by provision of privacy areas where birds can escape unwanted social encounters or lay eggs.
Journal Title/Title of Proceedings
Applied Animal Behaviour Science