The preferences of laying hens for perforated Astroturf over conventional wire as a dustbathing substrate in furnished cages
Following the 2012 European ban (1999/74/EC) of conventional battery cages, only furnished cages will be allowed for laying hens. However, even when furnished cages provide a pecking and scratching area most dustbathing occurs on the wire floor. This study aimed to investigate whether laying hens showed a preference for dustbathing on a covered wire floor rather than a conventional wire floor. Eight groups of 10 hens were housed in pairs of adjoining furnished cages. All hens were leg-ringed for individual identification. Each pair of cages consisted of one cage containing a wire floor covered with perforated Astroturf and a second cage containing a conventional wire floor, joined by a pophole through which hens had unrestricted access. Initial scan samples were taken to investigate the general behaviour of the hens on each floor type. Dustbathing was observed more frequently on Astroturf and no other behaviours were affected by the floor type. Scans were subsequently taken at 5 min intervals between 1130h and 1600h for 10 days, identifying the number of hens, and which individual hens, were dustbathing on each floor type. Data were analysed on a per cage basis, using the binomial sign test. A strong preference was found for dustbathing on Astroturf flooring that was apparent in all cages. Furthermore, the distribution of hens indicated this was not attributable to any overall preference for either floor type but was specific to periods when hens were dustbathing. This demonstrates that there is the potential to include Astroturf in the design of furnished cages, as a dustbathing substrate, in order to improve the welfare of laying hens.
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