Effects of Housing Systems on Behaviour, Performance and Welfare of Fast-growing Broilers

  • Zhao, Zi-Guang (School of Animal Science and Technology, Northeast Agricultural University) ;
  • Li, Jian-Hong (School of Animal Science and Technology, Northeast Agricultural University) ;
  • Li, Xiang (School of Animal Science and Technology, Northeast Agricultural University) ;
  • Bao, Jun (School of Animal Science and Technology, Northeast Agricultural University)
  • Received : 2013.03.24
  • Accepted : 2013.07.16
  • Published : 2014.01.01


This experiment aimed to evaluate the effects of different housing systems on behavioral activities, welfare and meat quality of fast-growing broilers. Two hundred broilers were allocated into two housing systems: indoor housing vs indoor with outdoor access. Their general behavior (feeding, drinking, fighting, standing, lying, walking, investigating, dust-bathing and preening) was observed, and tonic immobility, fluctuating asymmetry of legs and wings were measured, and meat quality was analyzed. The results showed that the indoor-housed broilers with outdoor access had significant higher standing, walking, investigating, dust-bathing and preening than those indoor only. However, farming system was not found to significantly affect their feeding, drinking and fighting activities (p>0.05). The value of FA of tibia length of the broilers with outdoor access was significantly lower than that of the indoor-housed birds ($1.57{\pm}1.30$ vs $2.76{\pm}1.40$, p<0.05), while no difference was found for the value of FA in tibia diameter and wing length (p>0.05). TI of the broilers with outdoor access was 165.5 that was significantly higher than that (147.2) of the indoor birds (p<0.05). However, death rate in the outdoor run groups was significantly higher than that of the indoor ones ($2.0{\pm}0.81$ vs $4.0{\pm}0.82$, p<0.05). Meat quality was not affected by the two farming systems. It can be concluded that the results of this study may suggest that the indoor housing with outdoor access provides enriched environment for broilers and facilitates the expression of natural behaviors of the broilers but resulted in poorer performance and higher death rate.


  1. Allen, C. D., D. L. Fletcher, J. K. Northcutt, and S. M. Russel. 1998. The relationship of broiler breast color to meat quality and self-life. Poult. Sci. 77:361-366.
  2. Beattie, V. E., N. Walker, and I. V. Sneddon. 1995. Effects of environmental enrichment on behaviour and productivity of growing pigs. Anim. Welf. 4:207-220.
  3. Bizeray, D., I. Estevez, C. Leterrier, and J. M. Faure. 2002. Influence of increased environmental complexity on leg condition, performance, and level of fearfulness in broilers. Poult. Sci. 81:767-773.
  4. Campo, J. L., M. T. Prieto, and S. G. Davila. 2008. Effects of housing system and cold stress on heterophil-to-lymphocyte ratio, fluctuating asymmetry, and tonic immobility duration of chickens. Poult. Sci. 87:621-626.
  5. Cornetto, T. and I. Estevez. 2001b. Influence of vertical panels on use of space by domestic fowl. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 71:141-153.
  6. Duncan, I. J. H. 1987. The welfare of farm animals: Anthological approach. Science Progress. 71:317-326.
  7. Fanatico, A. C., L.C. Cavitt, P. B. Pillai, L. C. Cavitt, J. L. Emmert, and C. M. Owens. 2005. Evaluation of slower growing broiler genotypes grown with and without outdoor access: meat quality. Poult. Sci. 84:1785-1790.
  8. Fanatico, A. C., P. B. Pillai, L. C. Cavitt, J. L. Emmert, J. F. Meullenet, and C. M. Owens. 2006. Evaluation of slower growing broiler genotypes grown with and without outdoor access: sensory attributes. Poult. Sci. 85:337-343.
  9. Fletcher, D. L. 2002. Poultry meat quality. World's Poult. Sci. J. 58:131-145.
  10. Grigor, P. N., B. O. Hughes, and M. C. Appleby. 1995. Effects of regular handling and exposure to an outside area on subsequent fearfulness and dispersal in domestic hens. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 44:47-55.
  11. Hansen, I., B. O. Braastad, J. Storbraten, and M. Tofastrud. 1993 Differences in fearfulness indicated by tonic immobility between laying hens in aviaries and in cages. Anim. Welf. 2: 105-112.
  12. Hoop, R. K. and P. A. Rippinger. 1997. The infection with Salmonella gallinarum-pullorum in poultry: experience from Switzerland. Schweiz. Arch. Tierhelkd. 139:485-489.
  13. Hughes, B. O., and A. J. Black. 1974. The effect of environmental factors on activity, selected behaviour patterns and "fear" of fowl in cages and pens. Br. Poult. Sci. 15:375-380.
  14. Jones, R. B. and J. M. Faure. 1981. The effects of regular handling on fear responses in the domestic chick. Behav. Proc. 6:135-143.
  15. Jones, R. B. 1982. Effects of early environmental enrichment upon open-field behavior and timidity in the domestic chick. Dev. Psychobiol. 15:105-111.
  16. Jones, R. B. and D. Waddington. 1992. Modification of fear in domestic chicks, Gallus gallus domesticus, via regular handing and early environmental enrichment. Anim. Behav. 43:1021-1033.
  17. Jones, R. B. 2002. Role of comparative psychology in the development of effective environmental enrichment strategies to improve poultry welfare. Int. J. Comp. Psychol. 15:77-106.
  18. Kells, A., M. S. Dawkins, and Borja, M. Cortina. 2001. The effetcs of a 'freedom food' enrichment on the behaviour of broilers on commercial farm. Anim. Welf. 10:347-356.
  19. Kestin, S. C., T. G. Knowles, A. F. Tinch, and N. G. Gregory, 1992. The prevalence of leg weakness in broiler chickens and its relationship with genotype. Vet. Rec. 131:190-194.
  20. Leone, E. H. and I. Estevez. 2008. Economic and welfare benefits of environmental enrichment for broiler breeders. Poult. Sci. 87:14-21.
  21. Mellen, J. and M. S. MacPhee. 2001. Philosophy of environmental enrichment: Past, present, and future. Zoo Biol. 20:211-226.
  22. Newberry, R. C. 1995. Environmental enrichment Increasing the biological relevance of captive environments. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 44:229-243.
  23. Newberry, R. C. 1999. Exploratory behaviour of young domestic fowl. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 63:311-321.
  24. Newberry, R. C., and I. Estevez. 1997. A dynamic approach to the study of environmental enrichment and animal welfare. Appl. Anim. Behav Sci. 54:53-57.
  25. Nicol, C. J. 1992. Effects of environmental enrichment and gentle handling on behavior and fear responses of transported broilers. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 33:367-380.
  26. Olsson, I. A. S. and K. Dahlborn. 2002. Improving housing conditions for laboratory mice: a review of environmental enrichment. Lab. Anim. 36:243-270.
  27. Palmer, A. R. and C. Strobeck. 1992. Fluctuating Asymmetry as a measure of developmental stability: Implications of non-distributions and power of statistical tests. Acta Zool. Fennica 191:57-72. Helsiki 30 June.
  28. Ponte, P. I. P., C. M. C. Rosado, J. P. Crespo, and D. G. Crespo. 2008. Pasture intake improves the performance and meat sensory attributes of free-range broilers. Poult. Sci. 87:71-79.
  29. Permin, A., M. Bisgaard, F. Fransden, M. Pearman, J. Kold, and P. Nansen. 1999. Prevalence of gastrointestinal helminths in different poultry production systems. Br. Poult. Sci. 40:439-443.
  30. Van Poucke, E., A. Van Nuffel, S. Van Dongen, B. Sonck, L. Lens, and F. A. M. Tuyttens. 2007. Experimental stress does not increase fluctuating asymmetry of broiler chickens at slaughter age. Poult. Sci. 86:2110-2116.
  31. Reed, H. J., L. J. Wilkins, S. D. Austin, and N. G. Gregory. 1993. The effect of environmental enrichment during rearing on fear reactions and depopulation trauma in adult caged hens. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 36:39-46.
  32. Ruis, M. A. W., E. Coenen, J. van Harn, P. Lenskens, and T. B. Rodenburg. 2004. Effect of an outdoor run and natural light on welfare of fast growing broilers. In: Proceedings of the 38th international congress of the ISAE (Ed. L. Hanninen and A. Valros), Helsinki, p. 255.
  33. Sanotra, G. S., L. G. Lawson, K. S. Vestergaad, and M. G. Thomasen. 2001. Influence of stocking density on tonic immobility, lameness, and tibial dyschondroplasia in broilers. J. Appl. Anim. Welf. Sci. 4:71-87.
  34. Stricklin, W. R. 1995. Space as environmental enrichment. Lab. Anim. 24:24-29.
  35. Zelnter, E. and V. Maurerv. 2009. Welfare of organic poultry. Poultry Welfare Symposium. Cervia, Italy, 18-22 May.
  36. Wang, K. H., S. R. Shi, T. C. Dou, and H. J. Sun. 2009. Effect of a free-range raising system on growth performance, carcass yield, and meat quality of slow-growing chicken. Poult. Sci. 88:2219-2223.

Cited by

  1. Broiler-Housing Conditions Affect the Performance vol.19, pp.2, 2017,
  2. Ranging Behaviour of Commercial Free-Range Broiler Chickens 2: Individual Variation vol.7, pp.7, 2017,
  3. Assessing behavior in Aseel pullets under free-range, part-time free-range, and cage system during growing phase vol.97, pp.3, 2017,