Riddle, E. R., Ali, A. B. A., Campbell, D. L. M. et al. 2018. Space use by 4 strains of laying hens to perch, wing flap, dust bathe, stand and lie down. PLOS ONE 13(1), e0190532.

The laying hen industry is implementing aviary systems intended to improve welfare by providing hens with more space and resources to perform species-specific behaviors. To date, limited research has examined spatial requirements of various strains of laying hens for performing key behaviors and none has been conducted within an alternative housing system. This study investigated the amount of space used by 4 strains of laying hens (Hy-Line Brown [HB], Bovans Brown [BB], DeKalb White [DW], and Hy-Line W36) to perform 5 different behaviors in the litter area of a commercial-style aviary. Hens were recorded standing [S], lying [L], perching [P], wing flapping [WF], and dust bathing [DB] on an open-litter area with an outer perch between 12:00 and 15:00 at peak lay (28 wk of age). Still images of each behavior were analyzed using ImageJ software for 16 hens per strain, and maximum hen length and width were used to calculate total area occupied per hen for each behavior. Brown hens required, on average, 89.6cm2 more space for S (P≤0.021) and 81.5cm2 more space for L (P≤0.013) than white hens. White hens used, on average, 572cm2 more space to perform WF than brown hens (P≤0.024) while brown hens used 170.3cm2 more space for DB than white hens (P≤0.022). On average, hens of all strains were wider while perching than the 15cm commonly recommended per hen (e.g., DW: 18.03; HB: 21.89cm), and brown hens required, on average, 3.38cm more space while perching than white hens (P≤0.01). Brown and white hens occupy different amounts of space when performing key behaviors. These differences, along with factors such as behavioral synchrony, clustering, and preferred inter-bird distances associated with these behaviors, should be considered when creating industry guidelines, crafting legislation and designing and stocking laying hen facilities to ensure hens can fulfill their behavioral needs.

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