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News Article

Mortality in cage-free flocks declines as managers gain experience and knowledge

Although cage-free facilities enable hens to move freely and express natural behaviours, concerns have also been raised over the possibility that cage-free flocks experience higher mortality

Research published in Scientific Reports based on a meta-analysis of commercial data on egg-laying hen mortality finds that mortality in higher-welfare cage-free housing systems decreases over time as experience with the system builds up.

The study, authored by Dr. Cynthia Schuck-Paim and others, included data from 16 countries, 6,040 commercial flocks, and 176 million hens in a variety of caged and cage-free systems. Specifically, researchers compared mortality of flocks housed in conventional battery cages; furnished cages, which provide hens with additional space, a perch, nest and litter substrate to allow them to forage and dust bath; and indoor aviaries, or cage-free housing systems.

The authors conclude that mortality in cage-free flocks is not inherently higher than those housed in conventional battery cage systems, but rather declines as managers gain experience and knowledge over time.

"When comparisons are made between systems with similar levels of technological maturity, mortality in cage-free housing is not higher than in caged systems," said Schuck-Paim. "In fact, the observed trends in the data show that mortality can be lower in cage-free housing if management continues to improve and genetics are optimized for cage-free systems."

Furthermore, the paper notes that lower mortality or longer survival of hens is not necessarily a good indicator of health or welfare.

"What makes animals suffer is not necessarily what kills them," said Schuck-Paim. "Unhealthy individuals can suffer for extensive periods in caged conditions before succumbing to their fate, if they die at all; whereas other deaths, for example accidents or predation, may affect otherwise healthy individuals."

The researchers say their findings highlight the importance of taking the degree of maturity and level of experience with a production system into account when conducting any farm animal health, behaviour and welfare study that compares outcomes across systems.

Article: Schuck-Paim, C., Negro-Calduch, E., Alonso, W. J. (2021). Laying hen mortality in different indoor housing systems: a meta-analysis of data from commercial farms in 16 countries. Scientific Reports, 11, 3052, doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-81868-3

Article details

  • Date
  • 09 February 2021
  • Source
  • Publicase Comunicação Científica
  • Subject(s)
  • Poultry