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The effect of group size and stocking density on the welfare and performance of hens housed in furnished cages during summer

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Abstract:

The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of group size and stocking density on the welfare and performance of hens housed in furnished cage systems during summer. A total of 924 Hy-Line Brown hens were assigned to three housing systems: a standard battery cage system (control, 4 hens per cage and 398 cm2 per hen), two furnished systems (including perches and nest); one with a small (SFC, 21 hens per cage; 586 cm2 per hen) and one with a large group size (LFC, 48 hens per cage; 543 cm2 per hen). The results showed that hens housed in SFC and LFC had a higher feed intake and a poorer feed efficiency compared to control hens. Laying rate and egg weight were not significantly affected by housing systems. Hens housed in LFC and SFC systems showed less sitting and more walking behaviours than control hens. SFC hens showed more nesting and less perching behaviours than LFC hens. Hens kept in SFC systems showed fewer signs of heat stress during summer, with less panting activity than LFC or control hens, and a relatively lower rectal temperature than controls. The rectal temperature of LFC hens did not differ from the SFC hens and controls. Blood concentrations of luteinising hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone and oestradiol were not significantly influenced. In conclusion, group size and stocking density in furnished cages have an effect on behaviour and performance of hens. The furnished cage systems with small group sizes were favourable for hen welfare without markedly affecting performance. Group size should be considered in the development of furnished cage systems.

Keywords: ANIMAL WELFARE; FURNISHED CAGE; GROUP SIZE; LAYING HENS; PERFORMANCE; TEMPERATURE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2012

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