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Can the needs of layer hens be met in furnished cages?
Furnished cages were developed to improve the behavioural expression that birds experience in cages. They retain the benefits of battery cages in terms of hygiene and disease control, whilst offering some benefits of cage-free systems in terms of increased behavioural expression. Behavioural expression is increased due to the provision of perches, litter for dustbathing, claw-shortening devices, and enclosed nests. Group sizes can also be improved in furnished cages compared to battery cages or cage-free systems.
Hens in furnished cages have improved musculoskeletal health compared with battery cages, and suffer the fewest fractures compared to cage-free and battery cage systems. Furnished cages offer some provision for dustbathing, although their use varies between different types of furnished cages, and hens are often unable to dustbathe satisfactorily due to the depletion or inadequate provision of dustbathing materials. There is a very limited ability for hens to forage and ground-scratch - areas provided for foraging are not adequate to meet the birds' needs.
While there are some provisions to allow greater behavioural expression, the hens' full behavioural repertoire is not able to be expressed satisfactorily in furnished cages. Therefore, furnished cages do not offer a complete solution with regards to hen housing. The ultimate aim for egg production systems should be to house hens in systems in which they are able to adequately perform all behaviours which they are motivated to perform, with a focus on optimising management, minimising the risk of disease, severe feather pecking and fractures.
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