Effects of perch design on behaviour and health of laying hens.
EU-Directive 1999/74/EC stipulates that furnished cages and non-cage systems for laying hens should be provided with perches. This Directive allows for a wide variety in perch design features possibly affecting perch use and hen health. Perch material and shape mainly affect slipperiness and grip quality and, in this regard, plastic, metal and circular perches are inferior. The incidence of bumble-foot and keel bone deformities can be influenced by perch shape. Perch shapes which reduce localised pressure on the foot pad and the keel-bone are recommended. Several aspects of the arrangement of the perches in the cage or non-cage system are also important. A consistent preference for high perches is seen, provided there is a minimal distance of 19-24 cm between perch and roof. Accessibility of high perches should be ensured, for example by incorporating lower level perches from which hens can reach the higher levels. Such multi-height perch designs also allow behavioural differentiation according to perch height (with most passive behaviour on the higher perches). In non-cage systems, good accessibility can be achieved by minimising the angles between perches at different heights to smaller than 45 degrees and by limiting the distance between horizontal perches to 1 m. The legislated minimum perch length provided per hen (15 cm) adequately allows for synchronised roosting behaviour on straight perches. However, in crosswise perch designs, hens require more perch length per hen as the area close to the cross cannot be used optimally.