26 April 1996

Mixed results from cage trials

BATTERY cages fitted with perches, nest boxes and dust baths to give hens an enriched environment have produced mixed results in the first year of big four-year trial at ADAS Gleadthorpe.

Although egg production in five modified cage systems was similar to normal battery cage controls, egg quality problems did occur in some of the modified cage systems due to birds not properly using nest boxes, and laying in dust baths.

Behaviour studies at feeding time also indicated that aggressive pecking occurred in some of the modified systems but none in conventional battery cages.

Hens in the normal cages were stocked at both 500sq cm and 625sq cm a bird, while in the enriched, modified cage systems they were stocked at 714sq cm, 1000sq cm and in one case 1250sq cm a bird. Lowest percentage of cracked eggs, at only 1.9%, was in the conventional battery cages.

These first-year trial results were presented at this years 50th Anniversary spring meeting of the UK branch of the World Poultry Science Association at Scarborough. There the scientists carrying out this work with 2745 ISA Brown laying hens said that in the second MAFF-sponsored experiment with modified cages the problems that occurred in the first year with egg quality would be addressed in particular.

This will involve persuading hens to use the nest boxes earlier in their laying cycle by housing them as pullets in the experimental cages at less than 20 weeks old, with different nest entrance positions and improved perch designs.

A total of 80 papers and posters on a wide range of poultry topics was presented at this years WPSA meeting at Scarborough. &#42