Plumage condition, body weight, mortality, and zootechnical performances: the effects of linings and litter provision in furnished cages for laying hens

Poult Sci. 2013 Jan;92(1):51-9. doi: 10.3382/ps.2012-02576.


This experiment was designed to determine the effect of litter provision and lining in nests and pecking and scratching areas on health and zootechnical performances. 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 versus 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. Zootechnical performances (laying rate, egg weight, and feed intake) were unaffected by PSA lining or by nest lining. The use of artificial turf mats in the PSA resulted in less feather loss than rubber mats, especially on breast and cloaca/vent areas. No consequences were observed on BW or mortality. However, the use of plastic mesh in nests was seen to increase mortality in comparison with artificial turf mats, without affecting plumage condition and BW. Although wheat bran provision did not influence feed intake and laying rate, litter provision did result in slightly higher mean egg weight. Moreover, BW tended to be lower when litter was distributed in cages, and neck and breast plumage condition improved. The distribution of litter was not seen to have any effect on mortality. The provision of litter and the lining of the PSA and nests to improve the welfare of caged laying hens have an effect on mortality, plumage quality, and some zootechnical performances. These results show the importance of choosing the most suitable linings and litter to obtain the best possible compromise between the ethological needs of laying hens, zootechnical performance, and animal health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Body Weight
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Feathers*
  • Female
  • Floors and Floorcoverings*
  • Housing, Animal / standards*
  • Oviposition*