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Title: Furnished Cage System and Hen Well-Being: Comparative Effects of Furnished Cages and Battery Cages on Behavioral Exhibitions in White Leghorn Chickens

item Pohle, K
item Cheng, Heng Wei

Submitted to: Poultry Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/27/2009
Publication Date: 8/1/2009
Citation: Pohle, K., Cheng, H. 2009. Furnished Cage System and Hen Well-Being: Comparative Effects of Furnished Cages and Battery Cages on Behavioral Exhibitions in White Leghorn Chickens. Poultry Science. 88:1559-1564.

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 objective of this study was to determine if bird well-being can be improved using furnished cages, by providing perches, dust baths, and nesting areas. Behavioral observation showed that, there were high levels of comfort behaviors, such as preening, expressed by the birds housed in furnished cages in contrast with the high levels of restless behavior, such as a greater frequency of posture and behavioral transitions, in the birds housed in battery cages. This suggests that the furnished cages may be an alternative system for battery cages in housing birds for egg production by providing a more complex environment while still taking advantage of the benefits of a small group size. However, further studies may be needed to examine the housing effects on the expression of stress hormones and neurotransmitters and to evaluate how these changes affect bird well-being. 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: The battery cage system is being banned in the European Union before or by 2012; and the furnished cage system will be the only cage system allowed after 2012. This study was conducted to examine the different effects of caging systems, furnished cages vs. battery cages, on bird behaviors. One hundred seventy-two, one-day old, non-beak trimmed, Hy-line W-36 White Leghorn chicks were reared using standard management practices in raised wire cages. At 19 weeks of age, the birds were randomly assigned into battery cages or furnished cages. The battery cages were commercial wire cages containing six birds per cage, providing 645 cm2 of floor space per birds. The furnished cages had wire floors and solid metal walls, with perches, dustbathing area, scratch pads, and nestbox area with concealment curtain. Based on the company recommendations, ten birds were housed per cage, providing a stocking density of 610 cm2 of floor space per bird. Behavioral observations were conducted using video software. The birds were observed at five-minute intervals for the entire light period. The birds housed in battery cages had more posture and behavioral transitions, and more time spent walking and performing exploratory behavior (P<0.05, 0.01, respectively); while the birds housed in furnished cages had higher levels of preening (P<0.05). Preening has been considered as a comfort behavior in birds. These results may suggest that furnished cages may be a favorable alternative system for housing birds by allowing them to perform certain natural behaviors.