Early access to perches in caged White Leghorn pullets
Osteoporosis, a progressive decrease in mineralized structural bone, causes 20 to 35% of all mortalities in caged White Leghorn hens. Previous research has focused on manipulating the egg laying environment to improve skeletal health, with little research on the pullet. The objective of the current study was to determine the effect of perch access on pullet health, bone mineralization, muscle deposition, and stress in caged White Leghorns. From 0 to 17 wk of age, half of the birds were placed in cages with 2 round metal perches, while the other half did not have perches (controls). Bone mineralization and bone size traits were determined in the tibia, femur, sternum, humerus, ulna, radius, and phalange (III carpometacarpal) using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. Muscle weights were obtained for the breast and left leg (drum and thigh). A sample of pullets from each cage was evaluated for foot health, BW, right adrenal weight, and packed cell volume. Most measurements were taken at 3, 6, and 12 wk of age. Access to perches did not affect breast muscle weight, percentage breast muscle, percentage leg muscle, bone mineral density, bone length, bone width, adrenal weight, packed cell volume, and hyperkeratosis of the foot-pad and toes. There were no differences in BW, bone mineral content, and leg muscle weight at 3 and 6 wk of age. However, at 12 wk of age, BW (P = 0.025), bone mineral content of the tibia, sternum, and humerus (P = 0.015), and the left leg muscle weight (P = 0.006) increased in pullets with access to perches as compared with controls. These results suggest that perch access has beneficial effects on pullet health by stimulating leg muscle deposition and increasing the mineral content of certain bones without causing a concomitant decrease in bone mineral density.