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Alternate Housing for Laying Hens

Date

1995-03

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Degree Level

Masters

Abstract

A housing system for laying hens was designed to incorporate advantages found in battery cage and aviary housing systems. This includes separation from fecal matter, increased horizontal space per bird over commercial battery housing, space for vertical movements, a small group number, perches and nestboxes. A dustbathing area was included in one-half of the cages. The cage was designed to be used in an existing cage facility. The mechanics of the cage (egg collection, feeder lines, nest box closures and dustbathing doors) can be easily adapted to automation in a commercial operation. Shaver White Leghorn pullets were housed in one of four housing treatments, alternate cages without a dustbath (NDB), alternate cages with a dustbath (DB), battery cages with three birds per cage (465 cm2/bird) (D3) and battery cages with two birds per cage (697 cm2/bird) (D2). Five replicates per treatment (30 birds per replicate) were compared for egg production, egg quality and feed intake from 19 to 58 wk of age. Stereotypic and comfort behaviors of focal birds were monitored on an 8 wk basis. All mortalities were necropsied for cause of death. Birds were scored for feather cover and foot health at the end of trial. Skeletal strength was determined by measuring the ultimate breaking force of tibiae and humeri. Statistical analysis was performed using the General Linear Model program of SAS (1989). Behavioral data were transformed using log transformation prior to the GLM procedure. Differences were considered significant when P<.05. Egg production and weight did not vary with housing treatment (hen-day production, %: 85.7, 87.2, 84.1, 86.2 for D2, D3, DB and NDB respectively). A difference in specific gravity was noted during the latter stages of the trial, with hens from the alternate cages having improved egg shell quality. Microbial contamination of egg shells was highest in eggs from birds in D3 cages (aerobic colonies per egg D2, 3392; D3, 8004; DB 3457; NDB 2442). Feed intake was highest in D2 birds (g/d, D2, 122; D3, 119; DB, 119; NDB, 118) as was bird weight (kg, DB, 2.00; D3, 1.86; DB, 1.84; NDB, 1.85). Mortality was similar among all treatments. Eating, resting and preening behaviors were performed for longer times per bout in the alternate cages. Comfort behaviors (feather ruffling and wing flapping) were performed more often in alternate cages. Displacements and stereotypical head bobbing were more common in D2 and D3 cages. Overall feather cover scores were best for birds in D2 cages, and poorest for hens in D3 cages (13.1, 9.3, 10.5, 10.0 respectively). The breast and vent areas of the DB and NDB hens scored low, as a result of the non-aggressive feather pecking noted in these birds. Differences were noted in foot scores, with DB and NDB hens having a low incidence of toe lesions and a higher number of enlarged foot pads. Bone breaking strength showed that hens from both alternate systems had stronger humeri (kg: 14.8, 14.6, 23.7, 23.2 for D2, D3, DB and NDB respectively). The alternate cages provided a housing system in which hen production and egg characteristics matched that from battery caged hens and provided a more dense egg shell during the latter production cycle. Skeletal strength was improved due to the increase in movement allowed. Birds were able to perform more behaviors (nesting and perching) because of additional equipment. Resting and comfort behaviors were performed for longer uninterrupted lengths of time. While dustbathing areas were used, no advantages were noted in production parameters, comfort or stereotypy behaviors, skeletal strength or foot scores. Birds in the DB treatment had better feather cover in the breast area than NDB birds, but not as good as D2 or D3 hens. The alternate cage systems did combine many of the advantages of battery cages and aviaries. However, feather pecking amongst these hens was extensive and would not be acceptable in a commercial operation.

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Degree

Master of Science (M.Sc.)

Department

Graduate Studies and Research

Program

Animal and Poultry Science

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