Development of furnished cages for laying hens

M.C. Appleby, A.W. Walker, H.A. Elson, C.J. Nicol, A.C. Lindberg, R. Freire, B.O. Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

1. A 3-year trial was carried out of cages for laying hens, occupying a full laying house. The main cage designs used were 5000 cm in area, 50 cm high at the rear and furnished with nests and perches. F cages had a front rollaway nest at the side, lined with artificial turf. FD cages also had a dust bath containing sand over the nest. H cages had two nest hollows at the side, one in front of the other. They were compared with conventional cages 2500 cm in area and 38 cm high at the rear. 2. Cages were stocked with from 4 to 8 ISA Brown hens per cage, resulting in varied allowances of area, feeder and perch per bird. No birds were beak trimmed. In F and FD cages two further treatments were applied: nests and dust baths were sometimes fitted with gates to exclude birds from dtist baths in the morning and from both at night; elevated food troughs, with a lip 33 cm above the cage floor, were compared with standard troughs. 3. Management of the house was generally highly successful, with temperature control achieved by ventilation. Egg production was above breeders' standards and not significantly affected by cage design. More eggs per bird were collected when there were fewer birds per cage but food consumption also then tended to be higher. 4. The number of downgraded eggs was variable, with some tendency for more in furnished cages. Eggs laid in dust baths were often downgraded. Those laid at the back of the cage were frequently dirty because of accumulation of droppings. H nests were unsuccessful, with less than 50% of eggs laid in the nest hollows. However, up to 93% of eggs were laid in front rollaways, and few of these were downgraded. 5. Feather and foot damage were generally less in furnished than in conventional cages, greater where there were more birds per cage. With an elevated food trough there was less feather damage but more overgrowth of claws. In year 2, mortality was greater in cages with more birds. 6. Pre-laying behaviour was mostly settled in front rollaway nests. Dust baths were used more for pecking and scratching than for dust bathing. Comfort behaviour was more frequent in furnished cages than conventional, although still not frequent. Locomotion was strongly affected by number of birds per cage or by space per bird, being reduced by crowding. Most birds perched at night except in one treatment providing only 10-7 cm perch per bird. 7. Behaviour was more unrestricted and varied, and physical condition was better, in furnished than in conventional cages. However, egg production will cost more in furnished cages, partly because more eggs are downgraded. Dust baths must be fitted with gates that the birds cannot open from outside, but gates for nest boxes were found unnecessary. If a low perch is fitted it must be far enough from the back of the cage for birds to walk there. 8. Where there was less space per bird (more birds per cage) than the requirements in the 1999 European Commission Directive on laying hens, there were: fewer eggs per hen, but still above the breeders' target; lower food consumption; more feather and foot damage, but less than in conventional cages; higher mortality in one trial out of three; less freedom of movement. However, the results were still very good even with 8 birds per cage, and support the principle that furnished cages provide an acceptable way of protecting the welfare of laying hens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-500
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Poultry Science
Volume43
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2002

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