Management and production: Effects of litter floor access and inclusion of experienced hens in aviary housing on floor eggs, litter condition, air quality, and hen welfare

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Abstract

With different cage-free (CF) housing styles and management schemes, retailers have developed their own CF criteria. One highly debated aspect is if hens may be kept inside the system for part of the day-during the first few hours after lights-on. Research is lacking regarding the impacts of such a practice on hen welfare, incidence of eggs laid on the litter floor, litter condition, and air quality. This 14-mo field study was conducted to help assess such impacts. Hens (Dekalb White) in an aviary house (50,000-hen nominal capacity) were allowed to have full litter access (FLA) vs. part-time litter access (PLA) from 10:50 am to 9:00 pm, coupled with the absence or presence of experienced hens (1.5% of the population), hence a 2 × 2 factorial arrangement. The measured variables included a) incidence of floor eggs, b) percentage of birds remaining on litter floor at night, c) mortality, d) body weight (BW) and BW uniformity, e) litter condition (depth, moisture content, texture, amount removed, and bacteria concentration), f) environmental conditions, and g) welfare conditions (10 variables). Compared to FLA, PLA had a significantly lower incidence of floor eggs (1.4 ± 0.1 vs. 12.6 ± 1.1 eggs per hen housed as of 76 weeks of age (WOA), i.e., approximately 89% reduction), less manure deposition on the floor (0.53 ± 0.02 vs. 1.05 ± 0.04 kg/100 hens/d, dry basis, i.e., approximately 50% reduction), and lower ammonia concentrations due to drier litter (averaging 22% lower). Inclusion of 1.5% experienced hens in the young flock did not show benefit of reducing the incidence of floor eggs (P = 0.48). The percentage of hens remaining on the floor at night was low (< 0.01%) in all cases from 24 WOA onward. No differences were detected between FLA and PLA in hen welfare conditions, mortality, BW, BW uniformity, bacteria concentration in the litter, air temperature, or relative humidity.

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Oliveira, J. L., Xin, H., Chai, L., & Millman, S. T. (2019). Management and production: Effects of litter floor access and inclusion of experienced hens in aviary housing on floor eggs, litter condition, air quality, and hen welfare. Poultry Science, 98(4), 1664–1677. https://doi.org/10.3382/ps/pey525

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