Hen Preference

** Nest substrate preference of laying hens in a cage free system (Final Report)

M. Erasmus
Department of Animal Sciences, Purdue University (2016)

Key Learnings:

  • Average percentage of eggs laid was significantly greater in nests containing AstroTurf® compared to bare wire cage floors, plastic coated cage floors and the pen floor;
  • Hens prefer AstroTurf® over plastic coated cage floors at a ratio of 20:1.
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Nest substrate preference of laying hens in a cage free system
M. Erasmus,Department of Animal Sciences, Purdue University (2016)

Summary

Enriching cage free systems with appropriate nesting areas allows laying hens to express a full range of normal behavioral patterns.  However, nesting areas and nest substrates affect pre-laying behavior and where eggs are laid, and therefore, egg cleanliness and egg quality. Limited information is available regarding the pre-laying behavior and nest substrate preference in cage free systems of Hy-Line W36 hens, which are the most popular genetic line of laying hen in the U.S. This study examined laying hen preferences for AstroTurf® (AT), plastic coated wire (PL), and bare wire (WI) nest substrates. Hy-Line W36 laying hens were housed in groups of 10 to 11 in 8 floor pens that contained 3 nests, each containing one of 3 nest substrates (AT, PL, or WI) and behavior of hens was video-recorded over 2 consecutive days at 19, 20, 22 and 24 weeks (wk) of age to determine oviposition (egg laying) time and in which nests hens laid their eggs. Also, nest substrate was rotated at 20 and 24 wk to determine whether hens preferred to lay in a particular nest location or in a nest with a particular substrate. Farm staff collected eggs daily and kept records of egg quality as well as the location where eggs were found with most eggs laid in nests containing AT, then the floor, in nests with PL, and in nests with WI. A total of 5 hens (out of 74 observed) switched between PL and AT nests, but only 2 of the 5 hens did not lay in nests with AT. All other hens laid in nests lined with AT. The amount of time that hens spent in nests, the number of times hens inspected nests and the duration of nest inspections were all greater for nests containing AT than for nests containing PL or WI. Hens tended to inspect nests with PL more frequently, but the duration of inspections and amount of time in the nest did not differ between nests with PL and nests with WI. Results indicated that the majority of hens preferred to lay their eggs in nests containing AT and may be used to inform recommendations regarding nest substrate in cage free systems.

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Design of laying nests in furnished cages:  influence of nesting material, nest box position and seclusion

E. Struelens, et al.
British Poultry Science (2005) Vol. 46, Iss. 1: 9-15

Key Learnings:

  • Hens preferred peat and artificial turf to coated wire mesh for egg laying;
  • New design (XP which is similar to NXT) AstroTurf was just as attractive as peat to hens which is contrary to studies with earlier versions of artificial turf vs natural manipulable substances;
  • The use of a plastic coated wire mesh cannot be recommended for welfare reasons, while artificial turf is acceptable both for practical and welfare reasons
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Design of laying nests in furnished cages: influence of nesting material, nest box position and seclusion
E. Struelens, et al., British Poultry Science (2005) Vol. 46, Iss. 1: 9-15

Abstract 

  1. Preferences for three nesting materials and nest box positions were investigated simultaneously in two trials using a furnished cage: one with 18 individual laying hens and one with 18 groups of 5 hens. Following a habituation period in pre-test cages, every hen or group of hens was tested for 2 d: once without and once with plastic flaps at the entrance of the nest boxes.
  2. Hens preferred peat and artificial turf to coated wire mesh for egg laying.
  3. One nest box position was clearly preferred to both other nest boxes. The hens’ choice of nest box position was influenced by the pre-test cage in which they had been habituated.
  4. The presence of plastic flaps at the entrance of the nest boxes had no influence on the proportion of eggs laid on the different nesting materials or on the proportion of floor eggs.
  5. Individual and group testing resulted in the same overall results despite the presence of a distinct group effect.

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Choice between artificial turf and wire floor as nest sites in individually caged laying hens

B.O. Hughes
Applied Animal Behaviour Science (1993) Vol. 36, Iss. 4: 327-335

Key Learnings:

  • Young, individually-caged hens which had previously experienced only wire floors but had not yet produced their first egg, laid over 80% of their eggs on artificial turf when given a choice between it and wire mesh
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Choice between artificial turf and wire floor as nest sites in individually caged laying hens
B.O. Hughes, Applied Animal Behaviour Science (1993) Vol. 36, Iss. 4: 327-335

Abstract 

Young individually caged hens, which had previously experienced only wire floors but had not yet produced their first egg, laid over 80% of their eggs on artificial turf when given a choice between it and wire mesh. There was little evidence that artificial turf was preferentially used for any behaviour other than egg laying. Hens which had already laid for about 10 weeks on a wire floor showed strong individual preferences for laying in a particular part of the cage. These hens in general neither switched to artificial turf when it was placed on the less preferred side of the cage, nor avoided it when it was placed on the preferred side. It was concluded that these more experienced hens were strongly conservative in preferring to lay in a particular location but were generally indifferent to whether they laid on wire or on artificial turf. If artificial turf is to be widely used as a lining in nest sites then the properties which could make it a more attractive laying substrate deserve investigation.

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Influence of nest seclusion and nesting material on pre-laying behaviour of laying hens

E. Struelens, et al.
Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2008) Vol. 112, Iss. 1: 106-119

Key Learnings:

  • Differences in pre-laying behavior suggest that plastic-coated wire is less suitable as nesting material than peat and artificial turf regarding the welfare of laying hens;
  • Although artificial turf is not a loose and moldable nesting material, it has certain characteristics which the hens find attractive for nesting;
  • Shorter stays in the nest indicate the hens find plastic coated mesh less comfortable than artificial turf

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Influence of nest seclusion and nesting material on pre-laying behaviour of laying hens
E. Struelens, et al., Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2008) Vol. 112, Iss. 1: 106-119

Abstract 

Provision of nest sites is beneficial for the welfare of laying hens in intensive production systems. The design of these nest sites has a direct effect on pre-laying behaviour. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of screening off the entrances of the nest boxes with non-transparent flaps and providing nesting or flooring material on pre-laying behaviour. Eighteen individual Hisex brown laying hens and 18 groups of five hens were tested for 2 days in a test cage containing three nest boxes each with a different nesting material (peat, artificial turf and plastic-coated wire mesh). On one of the days the nest boxes were equipped with plastic flaps at the entrances. Pre-laying behaviour was analysed using focal sampling. Both degree of seclusion and nesting material had an effect on pre-laying behaviour of hens. Nest boxes with flaps were visited less frequently but for a longer duration per visit than nest boxes without flaps. Hens spent more time sitting and scratching, and less time standing and moving when flaps were present. Hens also received fewer pecks (group test) when nest boxes were equipped with flaps. Major differences were found between pre-laying behaviour on coated wire mesh compared to peat and artificial turf with shorter duration of nest visits (group test), more standing (group test) and moving (individual and group test), and less sitting (individual and group test) and object pecking (group test) on coated wire mesh. Differences in pre-laying behaviour on peat versus artificial turf were observed for the behaviours moving (less on peat), sitting (more on peat in the individual test) and object pecking (more on peat in the group test).

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Cage hygiene, laying location, and egg quality: the effects of linings and litter provision in furnished cages for laying hens

M. Guinebretiere, et al.
Poult Sci. (2012) Vol.  91, Iss. 4: 808-816 

Key Learnings:

  • The use of nests for laying eggs decreased when they were lined with plastic mesh
  • Artificial turf mat made the nest attractive to hens for laying
  • The use of artificial turf instead of plastic mesh as the nest lining increases nest use and consequently reduces the number of dirty eggs.
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Cage hygiene, laying location, and egg quality: the effects of linings and litter provision in furnished cages for laying hens.
M. Guinebretiere, et al. Poult Sci. (2012) Vol. 91, Iss. 4: 808-816

Abstract

This study investigates the influence of litter provision and linings used for nests and pecking and scratching areas on cage hygiene, laying location, and egg quality. Research was carried out in furnished cages, each housing 60 beak-trimmed ISA Brown hens. Four different treatments were compared in a factorial arrangement, including 2 different nest linings (artificial turf vs. plastic mesh), either used alone or combined with the use of litter (wheat bran) spread over the rubber mat in the pecking and scratching area (PSA). An additional treatment, using artificial turf mat in the PSA and nests (as commonly used in commercial flocks), was used to compare the effect of PSA lining in the other treatments. We observed laying location, the number of dirty and broken eggs, the microbiological contamination of eggshells according to laying location, and general cage hygiene. The use of nests for laying decreased when they were lined with plastic mesh. Eggs laid outside the nest were of lower quality than those laid inside it, and this was particularly true for eggs laid in the PSA. Although hygiene was low on artificial turf mats, eggs laid on PSA covered with a rubber mat were dirtier and had a higher count of mesophilic bacteria on the eggshell than those laid on PSA covered with an artificial turf mat. Rubber mats in PSA were rapidly destroyed and proved to be unsuitable. The provision of litter had no effect on cage hygiene but substantially increased wear on mats. This study shows nest lining and litter provision methods to be key factors that need to be taken into account to encourage the use of nest boxes for laying, and hence, to ensure good egg quality. Further research into new linings for PSA is needed for the future improvement of egg-laying conditions.

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Changes in position and quality of preferred nest box: Effects on nest box use by laying hens

A. Riber, et al.
Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2013) Vol. 148, Iss. 3: 185-191

Key Learnings:

  • The attractiveness of the preferred nest box within each pen was reduced by removing the Astroturf mat from the nest box floor, exposing the wire netting below
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Changes in position and quality of preferred nest box: Effects on nest box use by laying hens
A. Riber, et al., Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2013) Vol. 148, Iss. 3: 185-191

Abstract 

Using laying hens, we investigated whether position of a nest box, both within the pen and relative to other nest boxes, influenced the preference for a nest box, and how a sudden and marked change to the preferred box influenced the use of nest boxes by the hens. Groups (n = 12) of 15 Isa Warren hens were housed in pens, each with five identical nest boxes in different positions: Two single (in a corner or not) and a triplet of nest boxes (one of which in a corner). The use of nest boxes was determined by the number of eggs laid daily in each box. Three experiments, each lasting 10 days, were carried out. First, the undisturbed use of each of the nest box types was investigated, and a strong preference (P < 0.001) was found for single nest boxes in a corner, with 62% of the nest box eggs laid there. Second, each of the hen groups was moved to another pen allocated at random, and where the configuration of nest box types differed from that of their original pen. An effect of nest box type was found (P < 0.001), with 41% of all eggs laid in the single nest box in a corner, and 26% of eggs laid in the corner triplet nest box. Third, the attractiveness of the preferred nest box within each pen was reduced by removing the Astroturf mat from the nest box floor, exposing the wire netting below. This resulted in a change of nest box use (P < 0.001) from the single, corner nest box (67%; n = 6) to the corner triplet nest box (37%) and the single nest box not in a corner (35%), and from the corner triplet nest box (48%; n = 5) to the remaining triplet nest boxes (40% and 22%, respectively). The initial preference for a single nest box in a corner was probably due to a combination of isolation and view of the surroundings provided by this type of nest box. The manipulations in experiments II and III revealed that some hens were location conservative, i.e. continued laying in a corner location (or as close to that as possible), whereas others were isolation conservative, i.e. continued laying in the most isolated nest box despite it being positioned in a different area of the pen.

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Nest Lining in small-group furnished cages for laying hens

H. Wall, R. Tauson
Journal of Applied Poultry Research (2013) Vol. 22, Iss. 3: 474-484

Key Learnings:

  • Nest linings are used more by laying hens than the bare cage floor as a nest substrate when nests are well designed.
  • Exterior quality in cleanliness and blemish free eggs are higher in furnished cages with a nest lining.
  • Shows little statistical difference between artificial turf nests and plastic netting in terms of cracked, dirty eggs and hen well-being and mortality.
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Nest Lining in small-group furnished cages for laying hens
H. Wall, R. Tauson. Journal of Applied Poultry Research (2013) Vol. 22, Iss. 3: 474-484

Abstract 

In small-group furnished cages with nests lined with artificial turf, a high use of nest and acceptable egg quality are generally achieved. However, artificial turf has drawbacks, such as not letting manure through and not being cleanable in position. Therefore, a more perforated nest-lining material would be preferable given that nest acceptance and egg quality are not impaired. The main aim of the present study, comprising 2 trials, was to evaluate layers’ use of nests, egg quality, and bird exterior appearance in furnished cages with nests lined with artificial turf, plastic netting, or with the cage floor left bare. The furnished cages used in this study housed 8 or 10 layers; the hybrids included were Hy-line White and Hy-line Brown in trial 1 and Lohmann Selected Leghorn and Lohmann Brown in trial 2. In this study, plastic netting was as good as the artificial turf for all the aspects compared, whereas the bare cage floor as a nest bottom resulted in lower use of the nest and tendencies for inferior egg quality. Hybrid differences were found in most of the traits studied.

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Effect of Nest Design, Passages, and Hybrid on Use of Nest and Production Performance

H. Wall, R. Tauson, K Elwinger
Poultry Science (2002) Vol. 81, Iss. 3: 333-339

Key Learnings:

  • Cage design can impact how a laying hen will be able to interact with the nest and ultimately if they will lay in a nest or not.
  • Increased nest-bottom lining provides a more acceptable nesting environment.
  • Genotypic and Environmental factors are important in considering egg quality.
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Effect of Nest Design, Passages, and Hybrid on Use of Nest and Production Performance of Layers in Furnished Cages
H. Wall, R. Tauson, K. Elwinger. Poultry Science (2002) Vol. 81, Iss. 3: 333-339

Abstract 

Production performance, including egg quality, and proportion of eggs laid in nests were studied in furnished experimental cages incorporating nests, litter baths, and perches. The study comprised a total of 972 hens of two genotypes: Lohmann Selected Leghorn (LSL) and Hy-Line White. The birds were studied from 20 to 80 wk of age, and conventional four-hen cages were included as a reference. In furnished cages for six hens, the effects of 30 or 50% vs. 100% nest bottom lining (Astroturf(R)) were studied with LSL hens. Nest bottom lining had no significant effect on egg production or proportions of cracked or dirty eggs, but the use of nests was significantly higher in cages incorporating nests with 100% lining, compared with 50 or 30%. The two hybrids were compared when housed in large, group-furnished cages for 14 or 16 hens of two designs; with a rear partition with two pop holes or fully open, i.e., no rear partition. LSL birds produced significantly better and had a significantly lower proportion of cracked eggs. There was no difference between H- and O-cages, either in production or in egg quality. LSL birds laid a significantly lower proportion of eggs in the nests, especially in O-cages, implying a significant hybrid × cage interaction. When housed in conventional cages, the hybrids did not differ in proportion of cracked eggs but differed in production traits. It was concluded that with the present nest design, the proportion of nest bottom lining cannot be reduced without affecting birds’ use of nests, but the proportion did not affect exterior egg quality. The effect of genotype should be considered in the further development of furnished cages.

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