Improving the transition between rear and lay environment to provide better welfare and productivity within aviary-housed laying hens

Principal Investigator: Michael Toscano
Project Team: Ariane Stratmann (PostDoc)
Collaborator: Janice Siegford, Michigan State University 
Funded by: The Egg Industry Center

The overarching project objective is to investigate whether encouraging greater and earlier locomotion among vertical tiers during rearing by installing ramps can lead to specific changes in the short term (i.e., rearing period) leading to long term improvements in the laying period. We hypothesize provision of ramps during rearing will result in earlier and greater utilization of the various aviary levels and improved bone mineral density and biomechanical strength. Consequently, we anticipate these responses during rearing will lead to benefits during laying including: improved accessibility of resources, greater hen movement within the aviary and reduced incidence and severity of keel bone damage due to reduction of falls and collisions. We also anticipate improved production conditions (i.e. lower number of floor and system eggs) due to better use of nest boxes resulting from improved accessibility of nest boxes. 

In addition to investigating the benefits of ramps, the described experimental design will allow us to investigate the benefit of overall structural similarities between rearing and laying environments in how hens adapt to the latter in the period immediately following population. Our expectation is that hens in rearing and laying environments that both contain a directly stacked tier structure will adapt more rapidly as characterized by greater egg production, feed consumption, use of aviary tiers. We anticipate this response will be more pronounced in environments with ramps.

Ultimately, our intention is to provide industry stakeholders and industrial manufacturers with data-driven, objective solutions for improving structural design of rearing and laying aviaries. We also aim to reduce stress during transfer between rearing and laying environments to facilitate adaptation to the new environment and as a consequence, improve general quality of life for laying hens in aviaries.