Opportunities for exercise during pullet rearing, Part II: Long-term effects on bone characteristics of adult laying hens at the end-of-lay
Osteoporosis in laying hens has been a production and welfare concern for several decades. The objective of this study was to determine whether differing opportunities for exercise during pullet rearing influences long-term bone quality characteristics in end-of-lay hens. A secondary objective was to assess whether differing opportunities for exercise in adult housing systems alters bone quality characteristics in end-of-lay hens. Four flock replicates of 588 Lohmann Selected Leghorn-Lite pullets were reared in either conventional cages (Conv) or an aviary rearing system (Avi) and placed into conventional cages (CC), 30-bird furnished cages (FC-S), or 60-bird furnished cages (FC-L) for adult housing. Wing and leg bones were collected at the end-of-lay to quantify bone composition and strength using quantitative computed tomography and bone breaking strength (BBS). At the end-of-lay, Avi hens had greater total and cortical cross-sectional area (P < 0.05) for the radius and tibia, greater total bone mineral content of the radius (P < 0.001), and greater tibial cortical bone mineral content (P = 0.029) than the Conv hens; however, total bone mineral density of the radius (P < 0.001) and cortical bone mineral density of the radius and tibia (P < 0.001) were greater in the Conv hens. Hens in the FC-L had greater total bone mineral density for the radius and tibia (P < 0.05) and greater trabecular bone mineral density for the radius (P = 0.027), compared to hens in the FC-S and CC. Total bone mineral content of the tibia (P = 0.030) and cortical bone mineral content of the radius (P = 0.030) and tibia (P = 0.013) were greater in the FC-L compared to the CC. The humerus of Conv hens had greater BBS than the Avi hens (P < 0.001), and the tibiae of FC-L and FC-S hens had greater BBS than CC hens (P = 0.006). Increased opportunities for exercise offered by the aviary rearing system provided improved bone quality characteristics lasting through to the end-of-lay.