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Non-cage systems for housing laying hens often incorporate a framework of perches, allowing birds to move in three dimensions. Wood is predominantly used for perch construction, because it is relatively cheap and easy to work with. However, wooden perches are difficult to clean and
disinfect, which could lead to disease and discomfort for the birds using them. The objectives of this study were to identify which characteristics of perch design are preferred by laying hens; and to test whether birds would use perches of alternative materials for a comparable amount of
time as they use wooden perches. Six laying hens were housed individually in litter-floored pens and were offered a choice of three pairs of contrasting perch types (experiments 1-3): a rectangular, wooden perch ('control') versus two, thin, parallel, rectangular wooden perches; 'control'
versus a similar perch covered with foam and fabric; and 'control' versus a round, wooden perch. Birds were given each pair of perches twice, controlling for perch position in the pen. Time spent on each perch in a 48h period was determined from video records. Preferences were then tested
in consecutive trials (experiments 4-5) between perches of the following materials: wood versus plastic versus steel; and wood versus textured aluminium. There were no significant differences in time spent on different perches, suggesting that birds had no preferences between perch types.
The implications of these results could be important for the design of alternative systems for laying hens. Birds may be content to perch on artificial materials which could be more hygienic than wood and easier to maintain in a commercial system.