Welfare assessment of laying hens in furnished cages and non-cage systems: an on-farm comparison
From 2012 onwards, all laying hens in Europe will need to be housed either in furnished cages or non-cage systems (aviaries or floor-housing systems). In terms of animal welfare, furnished cages and non-cage systems both have advantages and disadvantages. Data on direct comparisons between the two, however, are limited. The aim of this study was to carry out an on-farm comparison of laying hens' welfare in furnished cages and non-cage systems. To meet this aim, six flocks of laying hens in furnished cages and seven flocks in non-cage systems (all without an outdoor run) were visited when hens were around 60 weeks of age and a number of measures were collected: behavioural observations, fearfulness, plumage and body condition, incidence of bone breaks, bone strength, TGI-score (or Animal Needs Index), dust levels and mortality. In non-cage systems, birds were found to be more active and made greater use of resources (scratching area, perches) than in furnished cages. These birds also had stronger bones and were less fearful than birds in furnished cages. On the other hand, birds in furnished cages had lower mortality rates, lower incidence of bone fractures and lower airborne dust concentrations. When all the welfare indicators were integrated into an overall welfare score, there were no significant differences between systems. These results indicate that furnished cages and non-cage systems have both strong and weak points in terms of their impact on animal welfare.
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