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How any hen can have beautiful plumage all year round

Press release issued: 16 October 2012

Scientists at the University of Bristol together with the RSPCA and Soil Association have put together a new guide to help make sure laying hens are well-feathered throughout their lives.

The four-page booklet, agreed with the poultry industry, covers the causes of feather loss, through best practice for keeping free-range, barn and organic hens with good feather cover, to managing a feather loss problem.

Hens mainly lose feathers through other birds pecking at them: an abnormal redirected foraging behaviour. The most common reasons for this are poor litter quality and limited foraging opportunities.

The guide, produced by AssureWel*, includes up to date information from the Bristol Pecking Project and advises making any changes in their diet, housing or environment gradually. It also points out that the most successful proven strategy is using as many management strategies together as possible.

Alice Clark, RSPCA senior scientific officer for farm animals, said:  “We are so pleased to be part of such a positive, collaborative effort to help find solutions to this key welfare issue affecting laying hens.”

British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) spokesman, Mark Williams, said: "BEIC is fully supportive of this guide which will help in assisting producers to implement measures that can help prevent injurious feather pecking, provided it forms part of the overall professional advice available to producers.”

The guide encourages strategies such as the use of enrichment to help keep hens interested, increasing opportunities for foraging, and maintaining good quality litter. The importance of as seamless as possible a transition from the rearing to laying house is also stressed.   

The booklet is being sent out in the next edition of The Ranger, the magazine of the British Free Range Egg Association, and can be found on the website of AssureWel and the RSPCA.

A further more detailed advice guide will be available shortly from the University of Bristol.


Further information

* AssureWel

AssureWel is a five-year (2010-2015) project led by the University of Bristol, the RSPCA and the Soil Association, funded by the Tubney Charitable Trust. The aim of the project is to improve the welfare of laying hens, dairy cattle, pigs, broilers, beef cattle and sheep though a practical system for assessing their well-being. AssureWel’s ‘welfare outcome assessments’ are scientifically validated measures of welfare achieved by looking directly at the animals, rather than their environment or management.

About the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences

Research at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences is focused on the areas of Animal Welfare and Behaviour, Comparative and Clinical Research, and Infection and Immunity, complemented by quantitative expertise in Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Mathematical Ecology. Research ranges from fundamental to applied and is relevant to over-arching issues such as Food Security and Animal Health.

About the RSPCA and RSPCA Freedom Food

The RSPCA was founded in the early 19th century to improve farm animal welfare at markets, during transport and slaughter and that work continues today. Freedom Food is the RSPCA's farm assurance and food labelling scheme. It is the only UK farm assurance scheme to focus solely on improving the welfare of farm animals reared for food. To find out more visit

About the Soil Association

The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by farmers, scientists, doctors and nutritionists to promote the connection between the health of the soil, food, animals, people and the environment. Today the Soil Association is the UK's leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use.

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