UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Production and behaviour of four strains of laying hens kept in conventional cages and a free run system Singh, Renu


Production, egg quality, behaviour, and physical condition were compared from Wk 20 to Wk 50 among three beak- trimmed commercial laying strains, Lohmann White (LW), H & N White (HN), Lohmann Brown (LB), and a non-commercial Cross between Rhode Island Red (male) and Barred Plymouth Rock (female) in conventional cages and in floor pens. All chicks were reared in their respective environments, and 450 and 432 pullets were housed at 18 and 7 weeks of age in cages and floor pens respectively. Hens in cages were provided with 688 cm2/bird and those in pens with over 6,000 cm2/bird, both of which are more than provided by commercial standards. Body weights and eggshell weights were higher for birds in floor pens than those in cages, and although they increased with age, body weight of hens in cages decreased at Wk 50. White-egg layers (LW, HN) used perches and nest boxes more than Brown-egg layers (LB, Cross). During the laying period, mortality was higher for all strains in cages and during the rearing period mortality was higher in floor pens for LB hens but not other strains. No aggressive behaviours were found, but the frequency of gentle feather pecking and pecking at the enclosure was higher in cages than in floor pens. Feather condition deteriorated over time in cages mainly because of contact with the cage wires whereas in floor pens, feather condition of birds at Wk 20 was not different from that at Wk 50. The frequency of keel bone deformities was higher for White-egg layers than for Brown-egg layers in cages and was higher for Cross hens than other strains in floor pens. Claws were longer in cages than in the floor pens. Foot condition was worse in floor pens than in cages. The welfare indicators used in this study showed that cages restricted the hens' behaviour compared to floor pens and resulted in higher laying period mortality, reduced body weight and deteriorated feather condition than floor pens. Both systems had advantages and disadvantages in regard to the hens’ health and welfare. The use of environmental complexities was strain specific in floor pens. The environment by genotype interactions suggests that the strain should be considered when considering alternative housing systems.

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