Assessing Environmental Control Strategies in Cage-Free Egg Production Systems: Effect on Spatial Occupancy and Natural Behaviors

Animals (Basel). 2020 Dec 24;11(1):17. doi: 10.3390/ani11010017.


Animal welfare concerns have been a challenging issue for producers and international marketing. In laying hen production, cage-free systems (CFS) have been identified as an alternative to ensure the laying hens' well-being. Nevertheless, in CFS, important environmental issues have been reported, decreasing indoor air quality. Environmental control strategies (ECS) have been designed to enhance indoor air quality in CFSs. However, little information exists about the effect of these ECSs on natural animal behaviors. Four strategies and one control were tested in an experimental CFS, previously designed to track behavioral variables using video recordings over seven time-lapses of 1 hour per day. Spatial occupancy (SO) and laying hen behaviors (LHB) were registered. One statistical analysis was applied to evaluate the effect of ECS on SO and LHB using a multinomial response model. Results show lower chances to use litter area within the reduction of litter allowance treatment (T17) (p < 0.05). Neither the four ECSs nor the control implemented in this experiment affected the natural behaviors of the hens. However, stress patterns and high activity were reported in the T17 treatment. This study shows that it is possible to use these ECSs without disrupting laying hens' natural behaviors.

Keywords: air quality; animal welfare; cage-free systems; laying hen behaviors; spatial occupancy.