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Performance and welfare of laying hens in conventional and enriched cages

Tactacan, G.B., Guenter, W., Lewis, N.J., Rodriguez-Lecompte, J.C., House, J.D.
Poultry science 2009 v.88 no.4 pp. 698-707
animal behavior, environmental enrichment, laying hens, animal well-being, physical activity, battery cages, animal health, egg weight, bone density, specific gravity, feed intake, egg production, immune response, feathers, battery husbandry, mortality
Concerns regarding the welfare of laying hens raised in battery cages have led to the development of enriched cages that allow hens to perform natural behaviors including nesting, roosting, and scratching. This study was conducted to compare indices of production and welfare in birds housed in 2 different caging systems. Shaver White hens were housed from 21 to 61 wk in either conventional battery cages (n = 500; 10 cages; 5 hens/cage; floor space = 561.9 cm²/hen) or enriched cages (n = 480; 2 cages; 24 hens/cage; floor space = 642.6 cm²/hen) and were replicated 10 times. Enriched cages provided hens with a curtained nesting area, scratch pad, and perches. Production parameters and egg quality measures were recorded throughout the experiment. Plumage condition was evaluated at 37 and 61 wk. Bone quality traits and immunological response parameters were measured at 61 wk, and 59 and 61 wk, respectively. Hen-day egg production, feed consumption, egg weight, and percentage of cumulative mortality of laying hens were not affected by the cage designs. Specific gravity and the percentage of cracked and soft-shelled eggs were also similar between the 2 housing systems. The incidence of dirty eggs was, however, significantly higher (P < 0.0001) in enriched cages than in conventional cages. Feather scores were similar between birds except for the wing region, which was higher (P < 0.05) for hens housed in conventional cages. Bone quality measures tended to be higher for hens housed in enriched cages compared with hens in conventional cages. However, the increase was significant only for bone mineral density. Immunological response parameters did not reveal statistically significant differences. Overall, laying performance, exterior egg quality measures, plumage condition, and immunological response parameters appear to be similar for hens housed in the 2 cage systems tested. Enrichment of laying hen cages resulted in better bone quality, which could have resulted from increased activity.