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Effects of variation in nest curtain design on pre-laying behaviour of domestic hens

By N. Ringgenberg, E. K. F. Frohlich, A. Harlander-Matauschek, M. J. Toscano, H. Wurbel, B. A. Roth

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Abstract

Laying hens in loose-housing systems select a nest daily in which to lay their eggs among many identical looking nests, they often prefer corner nests. We investigated whether heterogeneity in nest curtain appearance - via colours and symbols - would influence nest selection and result in an even distribution of eggs among nests. We studied pre-laying behaviour in groups of 30 LSL hens across two consecutive trials with eight groups per trial. Half of the groups had access to six identical rollaway group-nests, while the others had access to six nests of the same type differing in outer appearance. Three colours (red, green, yellow) and three black symbols (cross, circle, rectangle) were used to create three different nest curtain designs per pen. Nest position and the side of entrance to the pens were changed at 28 and 30 weeks of age, respectively, whereby the order of changes was counterbalanced across trials. Nest positions were numbered 1-6, with nest position 1 representing the nest closest to the pen entrance. Eggs were counted per nest daily from week of age 18 to 33. Nest visits were recorded individually with an RFID system for the first 5 h of light throughout weeks 24-33. Hens with access to nests differing in curtain appearance entered fewer nests daily than hens with identical nests throughout the study but both groups entered more nests with increasing age. We found no other evidence that curtain appearance affected nest choice and hens were inconsistent in their daily nest selection. A high proportion of eggs were laid in corner nests especially during the first three weeks of lay. The number of visits per egg depended upon nest position and age: it increased with age and was higher after the nest position change than before in nest position 1, whereas it stayed stable over time in nest position 6. At 24 weeks of age, gregarious nest visits (hens visiting an occupied nest when there was at least one unoccupied nest) and solitary nest visits (hens visiting an unoccupied nest when there was at least one occupied nest) accounted for a similar amount of nest visits, however, after the door switch, gregarious nest visits made up more than half of all nest visits, while the number of solitary nest visits had decreased. The visual cues were too subtle or inadequate for hens to develop individual preferences while nest position, entrance side, age and nest occupancy affected the quantity and type of nest visits.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 170
Pages 34-43
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2015.06.008
Language English
Author Address Research Centre for Proper Housing: Poultry and Rabbits (ZTHZ), Division of Animal Welfare, VPH Institute, University of Bern, Burgerweg 22, CH-3052 Zollikofen, Switzerland.nadine.ringgenberg@vetsuisse.unibe.ch
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Tags
  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animals
  3. Birds
  4. Effect
  5. Egg production
  6. Eggs
  7. Fowls
  8. Hens
  9. Heterogeneity
  10. nests
  11. oviposition
  12. peer-reviewed
  13. pens
  14. Poultry
  15. variation
  16. vertebrates
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  1. peer-reviewed