Promoting good health and welfare in European organic laying hens

    Project Details


    Main research question/goal
    In the organic poultry (laying hens) industry in 8 European countries, can we find a correlation between prevention of endo-and ectoparasitic infections, feather pecking and cannibalism, health and welfare problems (e.g. keelbone deformations) and the characteristics of the housing (design, management and use of free-range) of the management, and nutrition of the animal itself? The HealthyHens project aims to identify management strategies that promote good health and well-being of the organically-reared laying hens and reduce their impact on the environment. The general objective is to promote the health and welfare of organic hens in European organic agriculture.

    Research approach
    In an international consortium of 8 countries (DE, DK, IT, UK, NL, AT, SE, BE) we use an epidemiological approach to identify major risk factors occurring in commercial organic layer farms. In total on at least 109 farms data is collected on: i) endo-and ectoparasitic infections, ii) design, management and use of free-range, iii) feather pecking and cannibalism, and iv) health and welfare problems (e.g. keel bone deformations). For these dependent variables the potential risk factors (characteristics of the housing, management, nutrition and of the animal itself) are noted during each farm visit. The associations between these possible risk factors and the dependent variables are tested with multivariate statistical analysis.

    A growing number of consumers buy organic food products, such as eggs, and often pay a substantial surcharge for this. Consumers expect that the laying hens on an organic farm have good health and welfare and that these systems are sustainable for the environment. This research underpins the supposed link between organic and health and welfare and contributes to better meet these expectations. Based on the data collected, we expect to formulate  scientifically substantiated recommendations on the efficient management of the health, animal welfare and environmental impact of organic laying hens. We communicate our findings to the organic sector through reports, presentations, congresses, scientific and popular articles, and informational workshops. All publications of this project are also uploaded and made available through the Organic Eprints Portal.

    Funding provider(s)
    European Union - FP7 - Cooperation

    External partner(s)
    Aarhus University
    ADAS UK Ltd.
    Fondazione CRPA Studi e Richerce onlus
    Louis Bolk Instituut
    SLU - Swedisch University of Agricultural Sciences
    University of Copenhagen
    University of Kassel
    University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
    Effective start/end date1/10/1130/09/14