Vasdal, G., Gebhardt-Henrich, S.G., Kittelsen, K.E. et al. 2022. Commercial broiler breeder pullet hens use perches but show no preference for perch type or height. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 249, 105608.

An important behavioral need for laying hens is perching, but few studies have investigated perching behavior in commercial broiler breeder pullets. The aim of this study was to investigate perching behavior throughout the pullet period and preferences for different perch types and heights. We also investigated the effect of hybrid on perching and the potential effect of perches on keel bone damage (KBD) and footpad dermatitis (FPD). We followed four commercial broiler breeder pullet hen flocks (Ross 308, n = 2 and Hubbard JA 757, n = 2), each with three groups of birds (n = 2 500 hens); A-group; four A frames consisting of four perch types (plastic, steel square, steel round and wood) placed on different heights (35 cm and 95 cm); S-group; Siesta perches (a plastic perch 15 cm high) and C-group; control group without perches. Perch use was recorded by counting number of birds on the perches during the last hour before the light went off, at week 2, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12 and 15. At week 16, footpad dermatitis, keel bone deformations and keel bone fractures were scored in 30 random birds in each group (n = 90 birds/flock). Hubbard birds perched significantly more than Ross birds (P < 0.0001), and more birds perched on the Siesta perches than on the A frames (P = 0.046). Perching increased with age for Hubbard birds (P < 0.05), but not for the Ross birds. There were no effects of perch height or perch types on number of birds observed on the perches. There were no observed cases of bumblefoot, breast blisters, keel bone deformations or keel bone fractures. The incidence of FPD was low, with 73.6% of assessed birds receiving a score of 0, with no significant differences between hybrids or perch groups. In conclusion, Hubbard birds perched more than Ross 308 birds, and all birds perched more with age. None of the hybrids showed any preferences for perch type or height and increased perching had no negative effects on important health parameters. Broiler breeder pullets should therefore be given access to perches from day 1 to promote training and perch use.