Effects of cage and floor pen management on behavior, production, and physiological stress responses of laying hens

Poult Sci. 1986 Jun;65(6):1058-69. doi: 10.3382/ps.0651058.


Behavior, physiology, health, egg production, and egg quality characteristics of laying hens housed either 1/1394-cm2 cage (S), 2/1394-cm2 cage (HD), 2/2788-cm2 cage (LD), or in floor pens (P), each containing 25 hens, were monitored in order to assess hen welfare in different management systems. Egg production was highest in P and S hens. There were no differences among treatment groups in feed efficiency, egg weight, or egg taste, although egg shell breaking strengths were lower in HD hens despite their relatively low egg production. Blood spots were most common in eggs from caged hens. With respect to behavior, penned hens locomoted more, spent less time in stationary exploration than caged birds, and utilized nest boxes for activities in addition to egg laying. The HD hens fed less frequently than did the LD, and HD cage pairs engaged less frequently in simultaneous feeding, drinking, and resting behavior than LD pairs. Plasma corticosterone levels were initially found to be higher in pens than cages; this difference disappeared when the use of trap-nesting to capture P birds for sampling was discontinued. Nighttime corticosterone levels were higher in HD hens. In contrast, primary and secondary hemagglutination titers to sheep erythrocyte (SRBC) antigen, heterophil to lymphocyte ratios, hepatic zinc metallothionein, serum zinc, and body weights did not differ among treatments. Mortality, however, was lower in pens. It was concluded that, although there were striking dissimilarities in behavior between the pen and cage environments, physiological and production data did not provide evidence of stress associated with cage housing per se. High density caging, however, may be a stressor; this is discussed with reference to other research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Eggs*
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Physiological / veterinary*