Laying hen

Perch feeding offers laying hen health and welfare boost

Take-home message: Feeding from perches in aviaries offers laying hens superior welfare and reduces mortality rates

Feeding laying hens in aviary systems from perches can improve bird health and welfare, according to scientists.

Researchers from the University of Bern found that feeding aviary birds from perches rather than traditional platforms helps to limit aggression and jostling, which in turn reduces injuries and reduces mortality.

While providing laying hens with perches has been repeatedly reported to reduce aggression and cannibalism, the impact of feeding them from perches has not been investigated.

In this study, the researchers decided to study the effects of feeding from perches on behaviour, health and production of two different bird hybrids (Nick Chick and Brown Nick) by comparing perches with more traditional platform feeding.

The study involved a partly-commercial barn divided in 20 identical pens, with 196 hens per pen. 

Bird behaviour was analysed from video recordings at 30, 37 and 51 weeks of age, while their health was assessed at 29 and 65 weeks.

The researchers also analysed feather condition at 21, 44 and 65 weeks, and they collected daily production data from weeks 18 to 65 of the birds’ lives.

The study found that hens fed on perches showed less aggression at the feeder and less jostling followed by feeding.

Despite showing more body instability than hens fed via platforms (such as balancing issues and falls) there was no difference in platform fractures between the treatments.

In perch treatments, the scientists recorded a tendency for lower overall mortality, with lower rates amongst Brown Nick hybrid birds from cannibalism.

The Brown Nick hybrid fed on perches also had lower mortality rates from cannibalism, while both hybrids laid more eggs, and had a greater feed conversion ration than those fed on platforms.

“Due to reduced aggression and jostling, as well as a tendency for lower overall mortality, we conclude that the perch treatment is a superior alternative with improved welfare to the platform,” the researchers said.

Taken from Feeding from perches in an aviary system reduces aggression and mortality in laying hens by Janja Sirovnik, Ariane Stratmann, Sabine G. Gebhardt-Henrich, Hanno Würbel, Michael J. Toscano