The effect of space allowance and cage size on laying hens housed in furnished cages, Part II: Behavior at the feeder

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Standards for feeder (a.k.a. feed trough) space allowance (SA) are based primarily on studies in conventional cages where laying hens tend to eat simultaneously, limiting feeder space. Large furnished cages (FC) offer more total space and opportunities to perform a greater variety of behaviors, which may affect feeding behavior and feeder space requirements. Our objective was to determine the effects of floor/feeder SA on behavior at the feeder. LSL-Lite hens were housed in FC equipped with a nest, perches, and a scratch mat. Hens with SA of either 520 cm2 (Low; 8.9 cm feeder space/hen) or 748 cm2 (High; 12.8 cm feeder space/hen) per bird resulted in groups of 40 vs. 28 birds in small FC (SFC) and 80 vs. 55 in large FC (LFC). Chain feeders ran at 0500, 0800, 1100, 1400, and 1700 with lights on at 0500 and off at 1900 hours. Digital recordings of FC were scanned at chain feeder onset and every 15 min for one h after (5 scans × 5 feeding times × 2 d) to count the number of birds with their head in the feeder. All occurrences of aggressive pecks and displacements during 2 continuous 30-minute observations at 0800 h and 1700 h also were counted. Mixed model repeated analyses tested the effects of SA, cage size, and time on the percent of hens feeding, and the frequency of aggressive pecks and displacements. Surprisingly, the percent of birds feeding simultaneously was similar regardless of cage size (LFC: 23.0 ± 0.9%; SFC: 24.0 ± 1.0%; P = 0.44) or SA (Low: 23.8 ± 0.9%; High: 23.3 ± 1.0%; P = 0.62). More birds were observed feeding at 1700 h (35.3 ± 0.1%) than any at other time (P < 0.001). Feeder use differed by cage area (nest, middle, or scratch) over the d (P < 0.001). The frequency of aggressive pecks was low overall and not affected by SA or cage size. Frequency of displacements was also low but greater at Low SA (P = 0.001). There was little evidence of feeder competition at the Low SA in this study.

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