In an effort to eat compassionately, many people choose free-
But researchers at the National Veterinary Institute in Uppsala, Sweden have discovered that, if farmers aren't extremely careful, bacterial infections like
E. coli can run rampant through free-
The finding, which appears in BioMed Central's open access journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica raises questions about what's best for both animals and people, reports Australia's news agency,
The study began when scientists noticed a sudden spike in dead laying hens submitted for necropsies.
The researchers guessed the surge in deaths was linked to the way farmers were housing the birds.
In Sweden, a new law bans the use of small laying cages and instead requires that chickens live more naturally -
This type of living is called a litter-
Most Swedish farmers made the switch from cages to litter-
To further investigate, veterinary pathologist Dr Oddvar Fossum and colleagues analysed the necropsies of 914 hens from 172 flocks.
The researchers found that as many as 10 times more hens were submitted from litter-
Compared to caged birds, free-
They were also more likely to become victims of violent pecking and cannibalistic attacks.
Flock size was part of the problem, Fossum says. Cages held a maximum of 10 birds, but free-
Even though these chickens had the freedom to wander outside and roll in the dirt, they were more likely to bump into each other, fight and share diseases.
The findings add to a growing body of evidence that free-
It's hard to evaluate whether a chicken is or can be "happy," Porter adds. But other studies have failed to find a difference in stress hormone levels between chickens that are raised one way or the other.
"One of the largest attractions of free-
"Although the perception of the general public is that these outdoor chickens must be healthier than others, time and time again this is shown not to be true."
Nutritionally, Porter adds, free-
Still, Fossum says, there are ways to keep a free-
Sweden's experience, he says, offers lessons to chicken farmers elsewhere.
ThePoultrySite News Desk