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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2010

Effects of housing conditions during the rearing and laying period on adrenal reactivity, immune response and heterophil to lymphocyte (H/L) ratios in laying hens

Moe, R. O.; Guemene, D.; Bakken, M.; Larsen, H. J. S.; Shini, S.; Lervik, S.; Skjerve, E.; Michel, V.; Tauson, R.


This study was conducted to evaluate the effect of early rearing conditions on physiological, haematological and immunological responses relevant to adaptation and long-term stress in white Leghorn hens with intact beaks housed in furnished cages (FC) or conventional cages (CC) during the laying period. Pullets were cage reared (CR) or litter floor reared (FR). From 16 to 76 weeks of age, hens were housed in FC (eight hens per cage) or in CC (three hens per cage). As measures of long-term stress at the end of the laying period, adrenal reactivity was quantified by assessing corticosterone responses to adrenocorticotropin challenge, and immune response was assessed by measuring antibody responses after immunization with sheep red blood cells (SRBC) and keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH). Heterophil to lymphocyte (H/L) ratio was employed as an indicator of stress. Rearing conditions significantly affected anti-SRBC titres (P < 0.0001) and tended to affect H/L ratios (P = 0.07), with the highest values found in FR hens. Layer housing affected H/L ratio (P < 0.01); the highest ratio was found in FR birds housed in FC during the laying period. This study shows that early rearing environment affects immunological indicators that are widely used to assess stress in laying hens. However, while results on H/L ratio indicated that FR birds experienced more stress particularly when they were housed in FC during the laying period, the immune responses to SRBC in FR hens was improved, indicating the opposite. This contradiction suggests that the effects on immune response may have been associated with pathogenic load due to environmental complexity in FR and FC hens rather than stress due to rearing system or housing system per se.


welfare; housing; rearing; laying hens; adaptation

Published in

2010, Volume: 4, number: 10, pages: 1709-1715
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (CUP)

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Animal and Dairy Science
    Veterinary Science

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