The effect of perch availability during pullet rearing and egg laying on the behavior of caged White Leghorn hens.
Enriched cages, compared with conventional cages, allow egg laying strains of chickens to meet some behavioral needs, including a high motivation to perch. The objective of this study was to determine if perch availability during rearing affected perch use as adults and if perch presence affected eating and drinking in caged White Leghorn hens. Chickens were assigned to 14 cages each with and without 2 round metal perches from hatch to 16.9 wk of age. At 17 wk of age, pullets were assigned to laying cages consisting of 1 of 4 treatments. Treatment 1 chickens never had access to perches (controls). Treatment 2 chickens only had access to 2 round metal perches during the laying phase (17 to 71 wk of age). Treatment 3 chickens only had access to 2 round perches during the pullet phase (0 to 16.9 wk of age). Treatment 4 chickens had access to the perches during both the pullet and laying phase. Each treatment during the adult phase consisted of 9 cages with 9 birds/cage for a total of 36 cages. Automatic infrared cameras were used to monitor behavior of hens in each cage for a 24-h period at 19, 24, 29, 34, 39, 44, 49, 54, 59, 64, and 69 wk of age. Behavior was also recorded twice weekly by an observer in the room where the hens were housed during photophase from 25 to 68 wk of age. Behavioral data were analyzed using ANOVA with repeated measures and the MIXED model procedure. A greater proportion of hens without perches as pullets used the rear perch more during both photophase and scotophase than hens with prior pullet perching experience. Eating and drinking activities of caged adult Leghorns were not impaired by their prior experience to perches as pullets or by the presence of perches in laying cages. It is concluded that providing perches in cages to White Leghorns during pullet rearing did not facilitate use of perches as adults.