Author(s): Carmichael NL, Walker AW, Hughes BO
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Abstract 1. ISA Brown laying hens (3000) were housed in a perchery in 10 pens, each with 300 birds. The pens varied in size to produce 4 different stocking densities: 9.9 birds/m2 (n = 3), 13.5/m2 (n = 2), 16.0/m2 (n = 2) and 19.0/m2 (n = 3). Observations began at 20 weeks of age and continued until 69 weeks to establish the spatial distribution of the birds, usage of the different resources and the expression of behaviour. 2. Overall, birds spent most time on the perch frame (47\%), litter area (23\%), slatted floor (17\%) and nestbox area (9\%). 3. There was no effect of density on the proportion of birds observed on the slatted floor or on the elevated perches but as density increased the proportion on the littered area decreased. 4. Space usage was determined vertically, horizontally and longitudinally. Individual birds were seen to use about 80\% of the pen volume available to them. This value was similar for all densities and showed that individuals did not have separate home ranges. 5. Fewer vertical movements were made within the main perch frame at the upper than at the lower levels but movements between the perches of the main frame and the nestbox rails were relatively frequent. This may help birds move up and down through the main frame. 6. Behaviours which decreased in incidence with crowding included moving, foraging and dust-bathing. Behaviours which increased with crowding included standing. Behaviours which were unaffected included resting, preening, prelaying behaviour, comfort behaviour and the minor behaviours. 7. The proportion of birds engaged in feeding and drinking was unaffected by density, except each time the chain feeders (which operated intermittently) ran more hens were seen feeding at the lower densities. This suggests that food delivery stimulated feeding behaviour; there may have been some restriction at the higher densities on birds feeding when and where they wanted. 8. Stocking density had no effect on the frequency of agonistic interactions: threats, lunges, comb/head pecks, chases and fights. 9. The incidence of damaging pecking was low and not density dependent. 10. Increasing density within the range investigated inhibited the expression of a number of behaviours and limited the use of specific resources: bird welfare at 19 birds/m2 may have been very slightly impaired.
This article was published in Br Poult Sci
and referenced in Journal of Veterinary Science & Technology