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

Poult Sci. 2009 Sep;88(9):1793-9. doi: 10.3382/ps.2009-00011.


Insufficient feeder space for laying hens could increase competition at the feed trough, leading to disrupted feeding, inadequate nutrient intake, stress, and reduced productivity. The effects of feeder space allocation (FSA) on physiology and productivity were evaluated in beak-trimmed Hy-Line W-36 hens (n=480). They were obtained at 16.5 wk of age and housed on 4 tiers of shallow conventional cages. Five pullets/cage were housed at a stocking density of 434 cm2/hen and a feeder space of 12.2 cm/hen. After 1.5 wk of acclimation, baseline measurements were taken for feed utilization, bone mineralization, and heterophil:lymphocyte ratios. At 20 wk of age, pullets were given 5.8, 7.1, 8.4, 9.7, 10.9, or 12.2 cm of feeder space/bird (16 cages/treatment). Physiological and production measures were calculated monthly or twice a month for 12 mo. The heart, spleen, and right adrenal gland were collected from each hen at the end of the study. Data were analyzed using a repeated measures GLM incorporating cage, tier, FSA, and hen age. There were no effects of FSA on total egg production, bone mineral density, bone mineral content, heterophil:lymphocyte ratios, or organ weights. Hens with reduced FSA utilized more feed (P<0.001), had poorer feed conversion (P<0.001), and laid eggs with slightly thicker and heavier shells (P<0.001). There were effects of FSA on total egg weight (P<0.001) and hen-day egg production (P<0.001), but they were of low magnitude and not linear (P>0.05). Because BW was similar among FSA treatments, the results suggest that reduced feeder space did not limit feed intake. In addition, reduced FSA did not lower bone mineralization or cause physiological stress in W-36 hens housed in shallow cages, suggesting that it did not impair hen welfare. However, it did result in poorer feed efficiency, possibly related to greater feed wastage, predictive of an adverse economic effect from reducing feeder space.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Oviposition / physiology*
  • Stress, Physiological