Effects of a partially perforated flooring system on animal-based welfare indicators in broiler housing
Alternative flooring designs in broiler housing have been the subject of intensive research. Research comparing different floor types with a focus on animal-based welfare indicators might be of special interest to meet the animal's needs. This case-control study investigated the effect of a partially perforated vs. a littered flooring system on health- and behavior-based welfare indicators of fast-growing Ross 308 broilers. Furthermore, production performance was assessed. The experimental barn was partially (50%) equipped with a perforated floor directly underneath the feeders and water lines accessible by perforated ramps. Conventional wood shavings were used in the control barn, as usual in practice. There were 4 fattening periods (repetitions) of 31 to 32 D performed with 500 animals per barn (final density of 39 kg m-2). Beside the flooring system, management conditions were identical. Health- and behavior-based welfare indicators were assessed weekly. Production performance indicators were measured continuously during animal control. During the avoidance distance test, animals were less fearful on day 21 (P = 0.010) and tended to be less fearful on day 28 (P = 0.083) in the barn with the partially perforated flooring system compared to the littered control barn. More animals around the novel object were also assessed in the barn with the partially perforated flooring system during the novel object test on day 1 (P < 0.001) and a tendency was found on day 28 (P = 0.064). Results showed that the partially perforated flooring system had a positive influence on foot pad dermatitis from day 14 (all P ≤ 0.007) and hock burn on day 28 (P < 0.001). With regard to the production performance, animals showed no differences in final body weight for both floor types. In this study, the partially perforated flooring system had a positive effect on animal health and behavior as indicated by welfare indicators without a reduction in production performance.