Effect of Perches in Cages During Pullet Rearing and Egg Laying on Hen Performance, Foot Health and Plumage28 February 2013
Enriching conventional cages with perches during the whole life of resulted in similar laying performance but the provision of perches during the rearing phase had an adverse effect on feed efficiency. The impact of perches on various welfare measures were mixed.
In a paper published in Poultry Science, P.Y. Hester of Purdue University and co-authors there and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, USDA-Agricultural Research Service's Livestock Behavior Research Unit and Illinois State University state that enrichment of pullet cages with perches has not been studied.
The objective of their study, therefore, was to determine if access to metal perches during all or part of the life cycle of caged White Leghorns affected egg traits, foot health and feather condition.
Treatment 1 represented control chickens that never had access to perches during their life cycle. Treatment 2 hens had perches only during the egg laying phase of the life cycle (17 to 71 weeks of age), whereas treatment 3 chickens had perches during the pullet phase (0 to 16.9 weeks of age). Treatment 4 chickens always had access to perches (0 to 71 weeks of age).
Comparisons between chickens that always had perches with controls that never had perches showed similar performance in terms of egg production, cracked eggs, egg weight, shell weight, percentage shell and shell thickness.
More dirty eggs occurred in laying cages with perches.
Feed usage increased resulting in poorer feed efficiency in hens with perch exposure during the pullet phase with no effect during egg laying.
Perches did not affect hyperkeratosis of toes and feet.
The back claw at 71 weeks of age broke less if hens had prior experience with perches during the pullet phase. In contrast, during egg laying, the back claw at 71 weeks of age broke more due to the presence of perches in laying cages. Perches in laying cages resulted in shorter trimmed claws and improved back feather scores but caused poorer breast and tail feather scores.
Hester and co-authors concluded that enriching conventional cages with perches during the entire life cycle resulted in similar hen performance to the controls. Fewer broken back claws but poorer feed efficiency occurred because of prior experience with perches as pullets. Perch presence during egg laying improved back feather scores with more trimmed nails but caused more dirty eggs, broken back claws and poorer breast and tail feather scores.
Although perches allow chickens to express their natural perching instinct, it was not without causing welfare problems, added the researchers.
Hester P.Y., S.A. Enneking, K.Y. Jefferson-Moore, M.E. Einstein, H.W. Cheng and D.A. Rubin. 2013. The effect of perches in cages during pullet rearing and egg laying on hen performance, foot health, and plumage. Poult. Sci. 92(2) 310-320. doi: 10.3382/ps.2012-02744
You can view the full report (fee payable) by clicking here.