The effects of cage density on pullet live performance and blood indices of stress were evaluated in two commercial White Leghorn strains housed at 38, 32, 26, and 20 birds per cage from Day 1 to 6 wk of age, and 19, 16, 13, and 10 birds per cage from 6 to 18 wk. Cage densities of 26 and 13 birds per cage represent a U.S. standard of 142 and 284 cm2 per bird that is often applied in commercial pullet rearing. Cage density treatments include confounding cage, feeder, and drinker spaces per bird as might be encountered in commercial practice when growing more pullets per cage. Body weight was significantly reduced at greater bird densities in both strains; however, one strain was affected as early as 6 wk of age, whereas in the other strain, body weight was not reduced significantly until 18 wk. Feed intake was increased by more than 13% in both strains at the lowest density treatment (20 birds per cage) from Day 1 to 2 wk but reduced by more than 9% by higher cage densities during the remainder of the study. Feed conversion (FC) ratio was similarly improved (i.e., reduced) when more pullets were housed per cage, and increased when fewer birds were placed per cage compared to the standard. Despite a significant reduction in feed intake and a corresponding loss of body weight, cage density treatments had no significant affect on hemagglutinin titers to sheep red blood cell antigen, percentage heterophils (H), lymphocytes (L), or the H:L ratio. However, pullet age and strain differences were observed for all blood parameters. Overall, treatments allowing more cage, feeder, and drinker spaces per bird than the U.S. commercial standard provided no body weight advantage, and allowed for greater feed intake and poorer FC at several ages.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Animal Science and Zoology