Possible risk factors for keel bone damage in organic laying hens

L. Jung, K. Niebuhr, L. K. Hinrichsen, S. Gunnarsson, C. Brenninkmeyer, M. Bestman, J. Heerkens, P. Ferrari, U. Knierim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Keel bone damage (KBD) in laying hens is an important welfare problem in both conventional and organic egg production systems. We aimed to identify possible risk factors for KBD in organic hens by analysing cross-sectional data of 107 flocks assessed in eight European countries. Due to partly missing data, the final multiple regression model was based on data from 50 flocks. Keel bone damage included fractures and/or deviations, and was recorded, alongside with other animal based measures, by palpation and visual inspection of at least 50 randomly collected hens per flock between 52 and 73 weeks of age. Management and housing data were obtained by interviews, inspection and by feed analysis. Keel bone damage flock prevalences ranged from 3% to 88%. Compiled on the basis of literature and practical experience, 26 potential associative factors of KBD went into an univariable selection by Spearman correlation analysis or Mann-Whitney U test (with P<0.1 level). The resulting nine factors were presented to stepwise forward linear regression modelling. Aviary v. floor systems, absence of natural daylight in the hen house, a higher proportion of underweight birds, as well as a higher laying performance were found to be significantly associated with a higher percentage of hens with KBD. The final model explained 32% of the variation in KBD between farms. The moderate explanatory value of the model underlines the multifactorial nature of KBD. Based on the results increased attention should be paid to an adequate housing design and lighting that allows the birds easy orientation and safe manoeuvring in the system. Furthermore, feeding management should aim at sufficient bird live weights that fulfil breeder weight standards. In order to achieve a better understanding of the relationships between laying performance, feed management and KBD further investigations are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2356-2364
Number of pages9
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • epidemiological study
  • keel bone deviation
  • keel bone fractures
  • palpation
  • welfare


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