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Poultry science

The effects of a perch, dust bath, and nest box, either alone or in combination as used in furnished cages, on the welfare of laying hens.


PMID 19211513

Abstract

This experiment examined the welfare-related effects of individual furniture items alone or in combination in a factorial experiment using Hy-Line Brown hens housed in 8-bird furnished cages. Welfare was assessed during two 8-wk sampling periods commencing at 29 and 59 wk of age. Measurement of stress, immunology, feather, foot and claw condition, and behavior were taken, and bone strength was measured at the end of the experiment. With the exception of the positive effects of a perch on bone strength, any effects of furniture items were relatively small, even though the furniture was extensively used. Although there were changes in behavior and small changes in feather, foot, and claw condition, it is unclear whether these changes have any meaningful implications for welfare. In this experiment there were 2 additional external control treatments for a small study that examined the effects of increasing space per bird (8 birds in single- and double-width cages) and the effects of group size (8 and 16 birds in double-width cages); using similar methodologies, these treatments showed differences in egg corticosterone concentrations and evidence of immunosuppression. Together, these data suggest that although furniture when present was well-used, any effects of furniture on hen welfare measured by physical and physiological traits, other than the benefit of a perch on bone strength, were smaller than effects of group size and space allowance.

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