Cage-Free Pullets Minimally Affected by Stocking Density Stressors


Management choices during the pullet phase can affect behavior, welfare, and health later in life, but few studies have evaluated the pullet phase, particularly in extensive housing systems. This study was a 2 × 2 factorial randomized complete block design (RCBD) with two strains and two stocking densities. The Lohmann LB-Lite and Lohmann LSL-Lite were housed on the floor at high-stocking density (619–670 cm2/bird) and low-stocking density (1249–1352 cm2/bird), which changed with age from 2 to 16 weeks of age (WOA). Bird-based measures of appearance, blood parameters, organ measurements, and production values were evaluated. Stocking density alone affected (p < 0.05) only relative bursal weight (% of body weight)—3.32% in the low-density versus 3.08% in the high-density group. High-stocking density was correlated with decreased uniformity (high—89.33 ± 0.24%; low—90.41 ± 0.24; p < 0.02) and worse feather coverage in the brown strain. High-stocking density was correlated with greater uniformity (High—90.39 ± 0.24%; Low—88.47 ± 0.24%; p < 0.001) and better feather coverage in the white strain. This study’s feed conversion ratio (FCR) was improved by 0.07 in the low-stocking density for both strains. The remaining parameters were affected by strain and age only. Thus, while stocking density effects vary slightly depending on the strain used, cage-free pullets had limited negative effects at both the high and low-stocking densities tested in this study; there were few to no changes in the numerous bird-based welfare parameters tested.




Abraham, M.E.; Robison, C.I.; Serpa, P.B.S.; Strandberg, N.J.; Erasmus, M.A.; Fraley, G.S.; Erf, G.F.; Karcher, D.M. Cage-Free Pullets Minimally Affected by Stocking Density Stressors. Animals 2024, 14, 1513.