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Research article2004Peer reviewed

Pop hole passages and welfare in furnished cages for laying hens

Wall H, Tauson R, Elwinger K


1. This study included two designs of furnished cages for 16 hens; H-cages divided into two apartments by a partition with pop holes in the middle of the cage, and fully open O-cages, without a partition. The hypothesis was that in this rather large group of birds the pop hole partition would benefit the birds by allowing them to avoid or escape from potential cannibals, feather-peckers or aggressive hens. All cages had two nests, two perches and one litter box. 2. A total of 10 cages (5 H and 5 O) were stocked with Lohmann Selected Leghorn (LSL) and 8 cages (4 H and 4 O) with Hy-Line W36. No birds were beak-trimmed. 3. Heterophil/lymphocyte (H/L) ratios, duration of tonic immobility (TI) and exterior appearance (scoring of plumage condition and wounds at comb or around cloaca) were used as indicators of well-being. Total mortality and deaths due to cannibalism were also recorded. 4. Visits to nests and passages through partition pop holes were studied in samples of 35 and 21 birds, respectively, using a technique based on passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags. 5. Cage design (H- vs O-cage) had no effect on the welfare traits chosen. 6. Hy-Line birds showed higher H/L ratios, longer duration of TI and better plumage condition than LSL birds. These differences are discussed in terms of stress thresholds and copying strategies. 7. On days when a hen made visits to nests, the visiting frequency was 1.4 and the total time in the nest was 41 min on average. Hens made use of the pop hole passages between 1 and 8 times per hen and day. 8. Overall low levels of aggression, lack of injuries or deaths due to cannibalism, and plumage condition indicating moderate feather pecking, together imply a low need to escape. The pop holes were used frequently and birds distributed well between compartments showing that the system worked well. However, at this group size there was no evidence in the measured traits that H-cages provided a better housing environment

Published in

British Poultry Science
2004, Volume: 45, number: 1, pages: 20-27