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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: The effect of perches in cages during pullet rearing and egg laying on hen performance, foot health, and plumage

Authors
item Hester, P -
item Enneking, S -
item Jefferson-Moore, K -
item Einstein, M -
item CHENG, HENG WEI
item Rubin, A -

Submitted to: Poultry Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: October 29, 2012
Publication Date: February 1, 2013
Citation: Hester, P.Y., Enneking, S.A., Jefferson-Moore, K.Y., Einstein, M.E., Cheng, H., Rubin, A. 2013. The effect of perches in cages during pullet rearing and egg laying on hen performance, foot health, and plumage. Poultry Science. 92:310-320.

Interpretive Summary: The objective of the current study was to determine if perch availability during all or part of the life cycle of White Leghorns affected hen performance and animal well-being traits. There were four treatments: treatment 1, birds represented control which never had access to perches during their life cycle; treatment 2, birds had perches only during the egg laying phase of the life cycle (17 to 71 wk of age); treatment 3, birds had perches during the growing or pullet phase (0 to 16.9 wk of age); and treatment 4, birds always had access to perches (0 to 71wk of age). There were few egg production differences between hens housed in cages with and without metal round perches. A benefit of perches included fewer broken back claws as a result of prior experience with perches as pullets. Advantages of perches as a result of their presence during egg laying included improved back feather scores and trimmed nails. A disadvantage of perches in cages was poorer feed efficiency as a result of perch availability during pullet rearing. Disadvantages of perches as a result of their presence during egg laying included more dirty eggs and broken back claws as well as poorer breast and tail feather scores.These data can be used by egg producers to develop guidelines for improving chicken welfare by providing perches.

Technical Abstract: Our objective was to determine if perch availability during all or part of the life cycle of caged Hy-Line W-36 chickens affected egg traits, foot health, and feather condition. Using a 2 x 2 factorial arrangement, treatment 1 represented control chickens which never had access to perches during their life cycle. Treatment 2 hens had perches only during the egg laying phase of the life cycle (17 to 71 wk of age), while treatment 3 chickens had perches during the growing or pullet phase (0 to 16.9 wk of age). Treatment 4 chickens always had access to perches (0 to 71wk of age). Comparisons between chickens which always had perches to controls which never had perches showed similar performance relative to egg production, cracked eggs, egg weight, shell weight, % shell, and shell thickness. More dirty eggs occurred in laying cages with perches. Feed usage and efficiency increased in hens with perch exposure during rearing with no effect during egg laying. Perches did not affect hyperkeratosis of the toes and feet. The back claw at 71 wk of age broke less if hens had prior experience with perches during rearing, but during egg laying, the back claw broke more because of perches in laying cages. Metal roosts in laying cages resulted in shorter trimmed claws and improved back feather scores, but culminated in poorer breast and tail feather scores. In conclusion, enriching conventional cages with metal round perches during the entire life cycle resulted in similar hen performance to controls. Benefits included fewer broken back claws because of prior experience with perches as pullets and improved back feather scores and more trimmed nails as a result of perch presence during egg laying. Disadvantages were poorer feed efficiency because of perch availability during pullet rearing as well as more dirty eggs and broken back claws, and poorer breast and tail feather scores due to perch accessibility during egg laying.

Last Modified: 8/19/2014
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