Using music with free-range hens

This Stonegate sponsored field lab is investigating the use of sound throughout large free range layer houses as an environmental enrichment. The aim is to reduce stress and feather pecking in the flock.

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Field Lab Timeline

    10/3/2016 11:00:00 PM
  • Idea formed

    Idea formed
  • 10/23/2016 11:00:00 PM
  • First meeting

    First meeting
  • 11/14/2016 12:00:00 AM
  • Methods finalised

    Methods finalised
  • 11/24/2016 12:00:00 AM
  • Start of the trial

    Start of the trial
  • 11/30/2016 12:00:00 AM
  • Start recording data

    Start recording data
  • 1/24/2017 12:00:00 AM
  • Field lab meeting

    With the wider farmer group

    Field lab meeting
  • 2/28/2017 12:00:00 AM
  • Finish trial

    Finish trial
  • 4/29/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Analyse data

    Analyse data
  • 5/14/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Results meeting

    Share results with wider farmer group

    Results meeting
  • 8/31/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Final report and dissemination

    Final report and dissemination
  • 11/28/2017 12:00:00 AM
  • New trial proposal submitted

    New trial proposal submitted
  • 1/8/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Proposal accepted

    Proposal accepted
  • 1/22/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Second year of trials start

    Second year of trials start
  • 1/24/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Initial 3 month trial

    Initial 3 month trial
  • 1/29/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Sound equipment fitted

    Sound equipment fitted
  • 2/5/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Birds in new sheds & monitoring starts

    Birds in new sheds & monitoring starts
  • 2/12/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Meeting to discuss progression

    Meeting to discuss progression
  • 2/26/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • New 3 month trial starts

    New 3 month trial starts
  • 3/12/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Monitoring continues

    Monitoring continues
  • 7/5/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Expanding the group

    Expanding the group
  • 9/2/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Second year results analysis

    Second year results analysis
  • 9/10/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Third year trial ideas

    Third year trial ideas
  • 8/31/2019 11:00:00 PM
  • Fourth year trial

    Fourth year trial
  • 10/14/2020 11:00:00 PM
  • Fifth year trial

    Fifth year trial
  • 9/29/2021 11:00:00 PM
  • Results discussion

    Results discussion
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

    To see the latest activity please log-in (group members only).

  • Achievements

    August 2020

    5th year trial

    The trial continues this October with a new flock of Dekalb Whites - the first flock to undergo a 'complete' trial, because variables such as differences in feed and spread of sound around the sheds have been leveled out.

    The farmer is keen to discuss the trial with any other interested farmers and learn more about how best to implement sound and music in chicken farms. Please email info@innovativefarmers.org and we can put you in touch.

    You can read more about the farmer's experience on the Q&A blog: https://www.innovativefarmers.org/news/2020/august/06/playing-music-to-hens-a-farmer-qplusa/

    Milestone: Fifth year trial

    July 2020

    Update: 4th year trial

    Although the original intention was to only play classical music, the farmer switched to playing a range of types of music, including radio, as this level of diversity helps birds get used to the greatest range of sounds and noises that might otherwise shock them.

    Milestone: Fourth year trial

    February 2020

    4th year trial

    A new flock of Burford Browns were introduced in mid-February 2020 to sheds in multi-tier systems, split into two by a central egg packing area. Music is provided only on one side of the shed (half the flock), whilst the other shed is used as a control.

    Only classical music will be played with additional sounds periodically introduced, as experience so far suggests that this is the most calming genre. It will be played during the daylight hours only, introduced gradually in terms of timings and loudness

    Levels of bird stress will be inferred from the following measurements:

    • Egg production
    • Mortality rate*
    • Feather pecking rate
    • Observations of bird behaviour using a recording system devised by Dr Sarah Lambton, details below (see further details in 'Trial Protocol Feb 2020' document)
    • Keel bone fractures

    *For cases of mortality record the likely cause e.g. if smothering, injurious, pecking, predation. This will provide information on the stress levels within the flock.

    Feather pecking will be assessed using the AssureWel system scoring degree of plumage damage on a 0, 1 or 2 scale. 50 birds are selected at random by selecting 5 birds from 10 different points in the shed. This will be repeated every 2 weeks.
    Keel bone fractures will be assessed as per usual practice 4 times during the laying life of the birds.

    Full laying hen Welfare Quality© assessment will be completed at the start and end of the 3 month trial phase.

    Weekly observational assessments of bird behaviour will be recorded, as well as any external events that might activate stress.

    More details of the full trial design can be found in the 'Trial Protocol Feb 2020' document to the top right of this page (login required - free to sign up).

    Milestone: Fourth year trial

    July 2018

    New triallists

    The group are looking for new triallists to get involved in testing music with hens. If you are interested please contact coordinator Kate Still: kstill@soilassociation.org

    Milestone: Expanding the group

    July 2018

    Data collection continues

    The data collection on the farm is continuing and discussions are on-going about changing the type of music / sounds that are being played to the hens. There is a noticeable change in behaviour when the music is altered and the farmer is interested in knowing whether relaxed / happy hen noises would be beneficial to the welfare of the hens.

    Please look out for continuing updates as the trial progresses and evolves.

    Milestone: Meeting to discuss progression

    April 2018

    Data collection starts

    The birds have now been in the newly fitted sheds for 28 weeks and have settled in. The trial playing music for the duration of the day is now beginning, with the farmers recording data.

    Milestone: Birds in new sheds & monitoring starts

    February 2018

    Next group meeting

    The next field lab meeting which will happen in the spring and will re-establish the scope of the trial and how the first trial period is progressing. Any changes for the following period on the new flock will be decided upon. For example there may be additional behaviour observations made on the impact of different sounds experience by the birds during the day.

    Milestone: Meeting to discuss progression

    January 2018

    Proposal accepted

    The groups second year proposal has been accepted and trials will begin this month.

    Milestone: Proposal accepted

    April 2017

    Results analysis

    The results from the first year of trials showed no significant differences between the control and the music played to hens. This was very likely to be due to significant challenges which effected data quality and the overall outcome. The key issues were:

    • Getting the perch position and lighting correct for the birds needs
    • Avian Influenza outbreak in the UK – resulting in a housing order during the trial period which affected behaviour overall
    • There were different people recording behaviour observations which could have resulted in observer bias
    • The music was played for a relatively short period during the day when generally the hens are in lay in nest boxes which may have resulted in them not hearing the music.

    Milestone: Analyse data

    April 2017

    First year trial issues

    The group identified issues from the first trial, and have considered the following ways to remedy this for a second year of trials:

    The fitting of the sound system in House 1 went smoothly but being a brand new shed some of the installed furniture and feeding equipment needed time for bedding down. The new sound system will be installed in Shed FR2 where all the internal equipment has been fully bedded down during the previous flock.

    Additionally the Avian Influenza outbreak and biosecurity restriction procedures that were put in place limited the ability of the full field lab group to meet and fully engage with the trial. It is hoped that the risk of Avian Influenza will be lower this year, so that group engagement will not be affected. Meetings have been planned in advance for the trial progression to be discussed.

    Milestone: Results meeting

    January 2017

    Wider farm group meeting

    Meeting to bring Stonegate fieldstaff and wider farm group together to discuss ideas around use of music as an enrichment for laying hens also experiences of bird vocalisation.

    • Field staff and farmers fed back experience of playing music in laying sheds. Discussed what was played – Radio v classical music
    • Discussed scope for other types of audio e.g. natural woodland sounds, natural chicken sounds (potentially nesting vocalisation in nest boxes) use of different pitches and rise in fall of volume and pitch depending on time of day. Use of sounds as a distraction
    • Acclimatising birds to unfamiliar noises was discussed, the importance of doing this as early on as possible, ideally during rear.
    • We discussed rise and fall of noise in the shed depending on time of day. Birds have a lot of different vocalisations which can indicate different problems in the flock however not always easy to link cause and response if not in the shed.
    • Generally found that noisy flocks can often be more flighty or have the potential to have more feather pecking problems.

    The farmer provided an update on the trial in practice, generally all progressing as planned. There has been some start up problems as it is a new shed and the birds have been more stressed but these have been caught at an early stage. The birds are currently being played the music from 6am (lights on) until midday and this will be built up, with the potential for different audio to be played at different parts of the day.
    The trial will continue and the data will be looked at after 3 months. The group will meet again to look at the findings and discuss how to develop the trial going forward.

    For those farmers who weren’t able to join the meeting please feedback your experiences of playing music/radio to hens (at both rearing and laying stage) - login and see the Activity Feed. Also any feedback on how you use vocalisation within your flock to understand your flocks behaviour, health and response to change.

    Milestone: Field lab meeting

    November 2016

    Recording has started

    A representative for Stonegate was onsite with the producer to set up the monitoring and record all measurements listed in the protocol. The trial will now run until the next meeting in January.

    Milestone: Start recording data

    November 2016

    The trial is now set up

    The flocks are now all in, sound equipment is up and running and playing Classic FM to start the trial.

    The producer has agreed the protocol changes suggested by the researcher and the next stage is to set up the data recording.

    Milestone: Start of the trial

    November 2016

    Field lab methodology

    The protocol has been discussed further by the researcher, producer and coordination team.

    The methodology in summary:
    • The experiment held in one 32,000-capacity multi-tiered shed to avoid additional variation.
    • Music played on one side of the shed (with the other side as a no-music control) as there is a central egg packing area that effectively isolates the sound in the large shed into two areas.
    • An MP3 player will be used to provide music during daylight hours, and this will be amplified via 8 speakers placed around the experimental side of the shed
    • The birds will be exposed to a maximum volume of 80dB.
    • In the initial trial, only classical music will be played to hens in order to reduce variation. This choice was made based on existing research which suggests classical music to be most effective in maintaining calm birds.

    Comparisons of stress levels will be inferred from several different measurements:
    • Egg production
    • Mortality rate
    • Feather pecking rate (using the Assurewell system)
    • Recording of any keel bone fractures
    • Observations of bird behaviour using a standard research method of measuring how quickly and at what distance hens move away from an approaching observer.

    The trial will run for 3 months.

    Milestone: Methods finalised

    October 2016

    Field lab planning

    Three group members met to discuss the field lab set up. Some methods were discussed, but not finalised.

    It was decided that the trial will take place in one 32,000-capacity multi-tiered shed, rather than two, so unnecessary variation is not introduced. As this shed is clearly split into two, music is to be played in one half, leaving the other half as a control with no music.

    Main points of discussion were:
    • Amplification methods
    • Style of music to be played
    • Volume of music
    • Measurements to be taken – egg production, bird mortality, feather pecking rate suggested
    • Duration of music
    • When observations are to be taken

    Further communications were arranged to confirm method details with the group coordinator and researcher.

    Milestone: First meeting

    October 2016

    Field lab creation

    The idea to investigate music provided as an environmental enrichment to free-range laying hens in order to improve flock welfare, developed as a result of a discussion involving a group of Stonegate farmers and British Blacktail producers.

    Milestone: Idea formed

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