Feather pecking remains a major problem in the poultry business. Dietary manipulation may help as a tool to prevent this behaviour, according to Marinus van Krimpen during a symposium on poultry nutrition and welfare in Wageningen, The Netherlands.
It is believed that feather peckiing is a substitute for normal ground pecking or feeding behaviour in the abscence or adequate foraging incentives. This justifies a nutritional approach of this problem. The aim of this approach is to direct more pecks to feed or litter and to reduce the drive to peck.
Research on this matter at Wageningen UR Livestock Research, indicated that increasing feeding related behaviour and satiety by dietary manipulation, are succesful strategies in preventing feather pecking behaviour, as long as this behaviour is not developed in an earlier stage. In laying hens, nutrient dillution and addition of coarse insoluble Non Starch Polysaccharides (NSP), increase feeding related behaviour, as expressed by prolonged eating time and decreased eating rate. Providing 15% diluted diets to rearing hens, results in less feather damage during the laying period.
Although dilution of the rearing diet does not prolong eating time in this stagethis might stimulate imprinting of pecks on feed, rather than on feathers of flock mates. Feeding related behaviour and satiety of laying hens are mostly affected by eating diets with a high insoluble NSP content. Additive effects, however, are found if dietary energy content is reduced and the NSP souce is coarsely ground.
The most perspective feeding strategy to prevent feather damage, is the supply of 7.5 - 15% diluted diet during the rearing period, followed by a 7.5-15 % diluted, coarsely ground., high NSP diet during the laying period. A daily consumption of 14 grams insoluble NSP per hen is recommended. For practical diets, the NSP rich ingredients oak hulls, sunflower seed, wheat middlings, barley, alfalfa, rape seed and corn gluten feed can used.