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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SAFEGUARDING WELL-BEING OF FOOD PRODUCING ANIMALS

Location: Livestock Behavior Research

Title: Furnished Cage System and Hen Well-Being: Comparative Effects of Furnished and Battery Cages on Egg Production and Physiological Parameters of White Leghorn Hens

Authors
item Pohle, Kim - PURDUE UNIVERSITY
item Cheng, Heng Wei

Submitted to: Poultry Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 27, 2009
Publication Date: August 1, 2009
Citation: Pohle, K., Cheng, H. 2009. Furnished Cage System and Hen Well-Being: Comparative Effects of Furnished and Battery Cages on Egg Production and Physiological Parameters of White Leghorn Hens. Poultry Science. 88(8):1559-1564.

Interpretive Summary: In the poultry industry, laying hens are primarily housed in battery cages. Battery cage systems solicit a great deal of debate pertaining to the relative impact of the practice on bird well-being because the battery cages may restrict birds to perform certain "natural behaviors.” The current study was to determine if hen well-being can be improved using furnished cages, by providing perches, dust baths, and nesting areas. Production and physiological data showed that, compared to the hens housed in battery cages, the hens housed in furnished cages were significantly heavier from 30 to 60 weeks (wk) of age and produced more eggs at 40 wk of age. In addition, the concentrations of corticosterone were increased in the hens housed in battery cages but not in those housed in furnished cages, which may indicate the hens housed in battery cages were more stressed. The data indicate that furnished cages could be a favorable alternative system for housing laying hens by reducing stress level. However, compared to the hens housed in battery cages, the hens housed in furnished cages produced more dirty eggs. A further study is needed to examine a potential increase in disease transmission as well as egg contamination in laying hens housed in furnished cages. The data from the present study can be used by farmers in management practices and other scientists when planning or interpreting their studies.

Technical Abstract: Laboratory animal well-being can be improved by housing the animals in a species-special “natural” or “near to natural” environment. This study was to examine if housing environment, furnished cages vs. battery cages, causes a similar impact on well-being in laying hens. One hundred seventy-two, one-day old non-beak trimmed White Leghorn female chicks were reared, and randomly assigned into battery cages or furnished cages at 19 weeks (wk) of age. The furnished cages (Big Dutchman, Germany) had wire floors and solid metal walls, with perches, dustbathing area, scratch pads, and nest box area with a concealment curtain. Based on the company recommendation, ten hens were housed per cage, providing a stocking density of 610 cm2 of floor space per hen. Six hens were housed in the commercial battery cages, providing 645 cm2 of floor space per hen. Body weight and egg production were calculated from 25 wk to 60 wk of age. The peripheral concentrations of dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, corticosterone, and IgG were analyzed at 30, 40, 50, and 60 wk of age. Compared to the hens housed in battery cages, the hens housed in furnished cages were significantly heavier from 30 to 60 wk of age (P<0.01) and produced more eggs at 40 wk of age (P<0.05). There was no treatment effect on egg shell thickness (P>0.05). The hens housed in furnished cages produced more dirty eggs, with a peak at 30 wk of age (P<0.01). In addition, the concentrations of serotonin were reduced while corticosterone was increased from 50 to 60 wk of age in the hens housed in battery cages (P<0.05) but not in those housed in furnished cages, which may indicate the hens housed in battery cages were stressed. Although further studies remain to be completed, present results suggest that furnished cages may be a favorable alternative for housing laying hens.

Last Modified: 7/25/2014