Assessment of Boxes as a Source of Environmental Enrichment for Broiler Chickens
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- Master's theses (IHA) 
Additions to the environment (e.g. by provision of resources such as different structures and litter materials) could improve both the physical and psychological well- being of commercial broiler chickens. This study aimed to evaluate the value of cardboard boxes as an environmental enrichment for commercially kept broiler chickens. Behaviour observations were conducted on two flocks of fast growing broilers in Farm 1 and one flock of slower growing broilers in Farm 2, at three different ages during the production cycle (3, 18 and 28 days, with additional observations in Farm 2 at 49 days). The houses were divided in quarters (Farm 1) or in half (Farm 2), and for each pair of adjacent pens, one was assigned to the experimental treatment containing cardboard boxes, and one to the control treatment. Instantaneous scans were performed to record the number of chickens standing (i.e. active) and lying (i.e. resting) on top of boxes (if present) and on the floor within observation patches. Three 10-s scans were then conducted to record “positive welfare” behavioural events based on ethogram description, and a graded scale was used for each behaviour where 0= no events observed in 10-s, 1= rare (one event observed in 10 s), 2= occasional (2-3 events observed in 10 s), 3= frequent (> 3 events observed in 10 s, involving > 3 birds). The chickens’ use of the box was assessed by counting the number of birds on top, beside and under 8 boxes per experimental pen. A novel object test was conducted to assess approach versus avoidance tendencies, and finally gait scores to assess lameness. Providing birds with cardboard boxes resulted in more playful behaviour such as running at 3 days of age (P=0.004) and jumping at 18 days of age (P=0.003) than in control pens, and more resting in patches containing a box than patches without a box in experimental pens (P=0.043). Lameness or response to novel object was not affected by provision of boxes. The enrichment value of cardboard boxes was not high at all ages, but one could see that birds like to use the boxes in different ways at different ages. The results of this study indicate that cardboard boxes as a source of environmental enrichment for broiler chickens are easy to implement and have positive influence on the behaviour and welfare.