Nesting, dust bathing and perching by laying hens in cages: effects of design on behaviour and welfare.

M.C. Appleby, S.F. Smith, B.O. Hughes

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1. Laying hens (192 ISA Brown medium hybrids) were housed from 18 to 72 weeks as groups of 4 in conventional or experimental cages. The main area of all cages provided 675 cm2/hen. All experimental cages had perches, dust baths and nest boxes, which were of three types: litter (L), artificial turf (A) or plastic rollaway (P). These facilities provided an additional 375 to 480 cm2/hen. The nest boxes and dust baths occupied either high or low positions. Behaviour, physical condition and production of the birds were regularly recorded. 2. Mortality was low (1.6% overall) and egg production very good in all treatments. The proportion of cracked and dirty eggs was slightly (but not significantly) higher in the experimental cages. In the experimental cages 90% of eggs were laid overall in the nest boxes and 3% in the dust baths. The proportion laid in the nest boxes was lower early in the laying cycle and increased with time, reaching 99% in A. 3. The facilities were heavily used. Birds spent about 25% of day time on the perches and 10-15% in or near the nest box and dust bath. At night, the majority of birds (90 to 94%) roosted on perches, but most of the remainder were on the lips of the nest box or dust bath, fouling the interiors. 4. Pre-laying behaviour was much more settled in the experimental cages (45 min spent in the eventual laying position) than in the conventional ones (20 min) and total duration varied from 68 min in A to 87 min in P. The number of nest entries varied from 3.0 (A and P) to 4.3 (L); disturbance to sitting birds was correspondingly greater in L. 5. Dust bathing in the experimental cages generally took place during the afternoon in a single bout of about 5 min duration, whereas in the conventional cages it was brief and fragmented (3 bouts of 10 s each). The dust bath was also used for foraging behaviour (pecking and scratching). The treatments with small dust baths (A and P) caused problems for the birds. 6. Feather, foot and claw damage all tended to be less in the experimental than in the conventional cages, though only in the last case was the difference significant. Keel bone depressions appeared to be associated with perches; they were present in 43% of hens in the experimental cages but only 4% in conventional cages.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-847
Number of pages13
JournalBritish Poultry Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1993


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