On-farm comparison of keel fracture prevalence and other welfare indicators in conventional cage and floor-housed laying hens in Ontario, Canada

Poult Sci. 2015 Apr;94(4):579-85. doi: 10.3382/ps/pev039. Epub 2015 Feb 22.

Abstract

The objective of this study was to compare the flock-level prevalence of healed keel bone fractures and to benchmark other indicators of well-being in laying hens housed in conventional cages and single-tier floor housing systems at several points during the production period. Commercial farms in Ontario, Canada, that housed hens in cages (n=9) or floor barns (n=8) were included. Flocks were beak-trimmed brown hens of various strains. Each flock was visited at 20, 35, 50, and 65 wk of age. At each visit, 50 hens were weighed, palpated for healed keel fractures, and feather scored over 4 areas of the body. Data were collected from the farm records on cumulative mortality. Keel fracture prevalence was higher in floor-housed flocks compared to cage-housed flocks (48.3±0.04% vs. 24.8±0.03%; P<0.001). The majority of keel fractures occurred by 50 wk. Cumulative mortality tended to be higher in floor-housed flocks compared to cage-housed flocks (2.13±0.42% vs. 1.29±0.19%; P=0.078). Mean BW was lower (1,827±28.8 g vs. 1,888±26.8 g; P=0.02) yet more uniform (CV of BW 9.43±0.40% vs. 10.10±0.32%; P<0.001) in floor-housed flocks compared to cage-housed flocks. Feather condition was not affected by housing system type (P=0.618), although it declined with age (P<0.001). Individual hen factors assessed using Pearson partial correlations indicated that hens with fractures were heavier at 65 wk in both housing types (P<0.05) and that heavier hens housed on the floor had better feather scores (P<0.001) from 35 wk onward. Floor-housed hens with fractures had lower feather scores at 35 wk (P<0.05) but not at 50 or 65 wk. Housing hens in single-tier floor systems increased the flock-level prevalence of keel fractures and resulted in a lower, yet more uniform, BW compared to hens in conventional cages under commercial conditions in Ontario. Benchmarking welfare indicators from alternative housing systems for laying hens is important to ensure that progress is made in improving their well-being.

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Posted in 2015 Publications, Publication, Publication-Faculty, Publications.