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Schwarzer, Angela; Rauch, Elke ORCID: 0000-0001-9992-3902; Erhard, Michael; Reese, Sven ORCID: 0000-0002-4605-9791; Schmidt, Paul; Bergmann, Shana ORCID: 0000-0001-9888-653X; Plattner, Christina; Kaesberg, Anne; Louton, Helen ORCID: 0000-0001-9658-823X (October 2022): Individual plumage and integument scoring of laying hens on commercial farms: correlation with severe feather pecking and prognosis by visual scoring on flock level. In: Poultry Science, Vol. 101, No. 102093
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Various plumage and integument scoring methods are commonly used to deduce the occurrence of severe feather pecking and cannibalism in laying hens. The aim of our study was to provide evidence of correlations between the occurrence of severe feather pecking and our individual plumage scoring system used under practical conditions on commercial farms with non–beak-trimmed and beak-trimmed layers (study I). In second step, we aimed to verify whether the results of the elaborate individual scoring may be predicted with a visual scoring method based on the total body scores of groups of birds (study II). For study I we observed the pecking behavior and performed an individual plumage scoring at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of a laying period on 8 commercial farms. For study II we performed both an individual and a visual plumage scoring on 49 flocks on 45 farms at the beginning of the laying period and on 43 flocks on 41 farms at the end of the laying period. Spearman's Rho revealed a correlation of the mean feather pecking rate with the total plumage score, the neck–back plumage score, and the total cannibalism score in all observation periods. A high feather pecking rate was correlated with severe plumage damage and the frequent occurrence of skin injuries. We conclude that both the total plumage score and the neck–back plumage score constitute a reliable indicator of the occurrence of severe feather pecking in the flocks assessed in this study. The results of study II suggest that the percental assessment of plumage damage on flock level in 3 categories (“visual score”) leads to a good prognosis of the actual, individually assessed plumage score. Therefore, the application (and documentation) of the visual score on a regular basis can provide a good evaluation of the development of the plumage condition of the flock. The visual score presented in this study is suggested as a suitable instrument for self-evaluation programs on farms.