Effect of space allowance and cage size on laying hens housed in furnished cages, Part I: Performance and well-being

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There are few published data on the effects of housing laying hens at different densities in large furnished cages (FC; a.k.a. enriched colony cages). The objective of this study was to determine the effects of housing laying hens at 2 space allowances (SA) in 2 sizes of FC on measures of production and well-being. At 18 wk of age, 1,218 LSL-Lite hens were housed in cages furnished with a curtained nesting area, perches, and scratch mat, and stocked at either 520 cm2 (Low) or 748 cm2 (High) total floor space. This resulted in 4 group sizes: 40 vs. 28 birds in smaller FC (SFC) and 80 vs. 55 in larger FC (LFC). Data were collected from 20 to 72 wks of age. There was no effect of cage size (P = 0.21) or SA (P = 0.37) on hen day egg production, egg weight (PSize = 0.90; PSA = 0.73), or eggshell deformation (PSize = 0.14; PSA = 0.053), but feed disappearance was higher in SFC than LFC (P = 0.005). Mortality to 72 wk was not affected by cage size (P = 0.78) or SA (P = 0.55). BW (P = 0.006) and BW CV (P = 0.008) increased with age but were not affected by treatment. Feather cleanliness was poorer in FC with low SA vs. high (P < 0.0001) and small vs. large FC (P < 0.0001). Feather condition was poorer in low SA (P = 0.048) and the best in small cages with high SA (P = 0.006), but deteriorated in all treatments over time (P < 0.0001). Treatments did not affect the breaking strengths of femur, tibia, or humerus, proportions of birds suffering keel deformations, or foot health scores. Overall, the SA studied in the 2 cage sizes in this trial had few effects on production parameters. However, stocking birds at the lower space allowance resulted in some measures of poorer external condition in both sizes of FC, which indicates that the welfare of hens housed at the lower space allowance may be compromised according to some welfare assessment criteria.

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