The effect of feeder space allocation on behavior of Hy-Line W-36 hens housed in conventional cages

Poult Sci. 2009 Aug;88(8):1544-52. doi: 10.3382/ps.2009-00010.


Insufficient feeder space for laying hens could increase competition at the feed trough, resulting in exclusion of low-ranking hens from the feeder. To test this hypothesis, the effects of feeder space allocation (FSA) on feeding behavior, aggression, feather scores, BW, and mortality were evaluated in a common commercial strain of egg-laying chickens. Beak-trimmed Hy-Line W-36 hens (n = 480) were obtained as pullets at 16.5 wk of age and housed in conventional cages on 4 tiers. Five pullets/cage were housed at a stocking density of 434 cm(2)/pullet and an FSA of 12.2 cm/pullet. After 1.5 wk of acclimation, baseline measurements were taken for 2 wk and then pullets were given either 5.8, 7.1, 8.4, 9.7, 10.9, or 12.2 cm of feeder space/hen (16 cages/treatment). Feeding behavior was evaluated in each cage over a 24-h period each month. For each hen, percentage of time spent feeding and synchrony (mean number of additional hens feeding at the same time) were determined and scores were averaged for each cage. For each cage, feeder switching (number of observations in which hens changed from feeding to not feeding) and feeder sharing (probability that feeder access was equally distributed among all hens) were calculated. At monthly intervals, individual hens were weighed and their feathers scored using a 5-point scale on 8 body regions. Data were analyzed using a repeated measures GLM incorporating cage, tier, FSA, and age of the hen. Hens with reduced feeder space spent less time feeding (P < 0.001), synchronized their feeding bouts to a lesser extent (P < 0.001), made fewer switches at the feeder (P < 0.001), and shared the feeder less (P < 0.001). However, feather scores, BW, and BW uniformity were not affected by FSA. There was almost no aggressive behavior and little mortality. These results demonstrate that Hy-Line W-36 hens did not respond to reduced feeder space by aggressively excluding cage-mates from the feeder but instead desynchronized their feeding behavior.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry / methods*
  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Body Weight
  • Chickens*
  • Feathers
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal*