Influence of Perch-Provision Timing on Anxiety and Fearfulness in Laying Hens

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Perches can enhance laying hen welfare, but their effectiveness might be age-dependent. We investigated early and late perch access effects on anxiety and fear in pullets through attention bias (AB) and tonic immobility (TI) tests. Pullets (n = 728) were raised with or without multi-level perches: CP (continuous perch access: 0–37 weeks), EP (early perch access: 0–17 weeks), LP (late perch access: 17–37 weeks), and NP (no perch access). AB was conducted in weeks 21 and 37 (n = 84/week), and TI was performed in weeks 20, 25, and 37 (n = 112/week). CP hens fed quicker than EP, LP, and NP in AB at weeks 21 and 37 (p ≤ 0.05). CP and NP feeding latencies were stable, while EP and LP fed faster at week 37 (p ≤ 0.05). CP had the shortest TI at week 20 (p < 0.05). CP and LP had the shortest TI in weeks 25 and 37 (all p ≤ 0.05). Unlike NP, CP reduced anxiety and fear. Adding perches during laying (LP) raised anxiety at week 21, adapting by week 37, and removing pre-laying perches (EP) worsened fear at weeks 20 and 25 and anxiety at week 21, recovering by week 37. Adding or removing perches prior to the lay phase increased fear and anxiety, an effect that disappeared by week 37 of age. Our study indicates that continuous perch access benefits animal welfare compared to no perch access at all.

Anderson, M.G.; Johnson, A.M.; Jacobs, L.; Ali, A.B.A. Influence of Perch-Provision Timing on Anxiety and Fearfulness in Laying Hens. Animals 2023, 13, 3003.