Skip to main content Accessibility help

Furnished cages for laying hens: study of the effects of group size and litter provision on laying location, zootechnical performance and egg quality

  • A. Huneau-Salaün (a1), M. Guinebretière (a1), A. Taktak (a1), D. Huonnic (a1) and V. Michel (a1)...


The furnished cage is a new housing system for layers. A current trend in furnished cage design is to increase group size and replace the litter box with a mat provided with litter. An experiment was set up to determine the effects of group size and litter provision on laying performance and egg quality of beak-trimmed ISA Brown hens housed in large furnished cages with more than 12 hens. Six treatments, each of 18 furnished cages (768 cm2/hen including nest and litter area) were compared in a 3 × 2 experimental trial: three group sizes (S20 (20 hens per cage), S40 (40) and S60 (60)), with or without feed as litter distributed on the mat of the litter area. The provision of facilities per hen was equal in all treatments. Mortality, laying rate, mean egg weight, feed intake and feed conversion ratio were unaffected by group size over the 53-week laying period, and performance exceeded the ISA production standards. The overall percentage of eggs laid in the nest exceeded 95% except that it was slightly lower in group S20 (92.0% ± 6.4% v. S40: 96.0% ± 3.3% and S60: 96.2% ± 2.7%) leading to a higher proportion of dirty eggs (S20: 1.6% ± 2.2%, S40: 1.4% ± 1.5%, S60: 1.0% ± 1.0%). At 66 to 70 weeks, eggs laid outside the nest had a slightly higher count of mesophilic bacteria on the eggshell (5.0 log CFU/egg ± 0.4) than those laid in the nest (4.8 log CFU/egg ± 0.5) but no difference in contamination was observed between group sizes. Litter provision had no effect on mortality, egg weight or egg quality traits except for a higher proportion of broken eggs in cages with litter (5.3% ± 6.2% v. 4.6% ± 5.7%). Providing hens with feed for litter was associated with a higher laying rate (97.3% ± 3.2% v. 94.8% ± 4.4% at 23 weeks) and an apparent improvement in feed efficiency at the beginning of the laying period (feed conversion ratio based on feed consumption at the trough: 2.18 ± 0.06 with litter v. 2.28 ± 0.09 without litter at 25 weeks). The results of this study showed that a high level of productivity and good egg quality could be obtained in large furnished cages. Further research is needed to assess the impact on hens’ welfare and performance of using more economically competitive substrates than feed for litter.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Abrahamsson, P, Tauson, R 1997. Effects of group size on performance, health and birds’ use of facilities in furnished cages for laying hens. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica – Section A: Animal Science 47, 254260.
Abrahamsson, P, Tauson, R, Appleby, MC 1996. Behaviour, health and integument of four hybrids of laying hens in modified and conventional cages. British Poultry Science 37, 521540.
Appleby, MC 1998a. Modification of laying hen cages to improve behavior. Poultry Science 77, 18281832.
Appleby, MC 1998b. The Edinburgh modified cage: effects of group size and space allowance on brown laying hens. Journal of Applied Poultry Research 7, 152161.
Appleby, MC 2004. What causes crowding? Effects of space, facilities and group size on behaviour, with particular reference to furnished cages for hens. Animal Welfare 13, 313320.
Appleby, MC, Hughes, BO 1991. Welfare of laying hens in cages and alternative systems: environmental, physical and behavioural aspects. World's Poultry Science Journal 47, 109128.
Appleby, MC, Walker, AW, Nicol, CJ, Lindberg, AC, Freire, R, Hughes, BO, Elson, HA 2002. Development of furnished cages for laying hens. British Poultry Science 43, 489500.
Barnett, JL, Tauson, R, Downing, JA, Janardhana, V, Lowenthal, JW, Butler, KL, Cronin, GM 2009. The effects of a perch, dust bath, and nest box, either alone or in combination as used in furnished cages, on the welfare of. Poultry Science 88, 456470.
Cooper, JJ, Appleby, MC 1996. Demand for nest boxes in laying hens. Behavioural Processes 36, 171182.
de Reu, K, Rodenburg, TB, Grijspeerdt, K, Messens, W, Heyndrickx, M, Tuyttens, F, Sonck, B, Zoons, J, Herman, L 2009. Bacteriological contamination, dirt, and cracks of eggshells in furnished cages and noncage systems for laying hens: an international on-farm comparison. Poultry Science 88, 24422448.
Duncan, IJH, Kite, VG 1989. Nest selection and nest-building behaviour in domestic fowl. Animal Behaviour 37, 215231.
EFSA 2005. Welfare aspects of various systems for keeping laying hens. The EFSA Journal 197, 1143.
European Commission 1999. 1999/47/EC Council Directive of 19 July 1999 laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens E.C.O.J n° L 203 of 3/8/1999. Official Journal of the European Union L203, 5357.
Guéméné, D 2007. Situation actuelle et évolution des systèmes d’élevage pour poules pondeuses en Europe. TeMA 4, 410.
Guesdon, V, Faure, JM 2004. Laying performance and egg quality in hens kept in standard or furnished cages. Animal Research 53, 4557.
Guesdon, V, Ahmed, AMH, Mallet, S, Faure, JM, Nys, Y 2006. Effects of beak trimming and cage design on laying hen performance and egg quality. British Poultry Science 47, 112.
Hetland, H, Svihus, B, Lervik, S, Moe, R 2003. Effect of feed structure on performance and welfare in laying hens housed in conventional and furnished cages. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica Section A Animal Science 53, 92100.
Hetland, H, Moe, RO, Tauson, R, Lervik, S, Svihus, B 2004. Effect of including whole oats into pellets on performance and plumage condition in laying hens housed in conventional and furnished cages. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica Section A Animal Science 54, 206212.
Huneau-Salaün, A, Michel, V, Huonnic, D, Balaine, L, Le Bouquin, S 2010. Factors influencing bacterial eggshell contamination in conventional cages, furnished cages and free-range systems for laying hens under commercial conditions. British Poultry Science 51, 163169.
Keeling, LJ, Estevez, I, Newberry, RC, Correia, MG 2003. Production-related traits of layers reared in different sized flocks: The concept of problematic intermediate group sizes. Poultry Science 82, 13931396.
Knape, KD, Chavez, C, Burgess, RP, Coufal, CD, Carey, JB 2002. Comparison of eggshell surface microbial populations for in-line and off-line commercial egg processing facilities. Poultry Science 81, 695698.
LayWel 2006. Deliverables D.3.2-D.3.3: analyses of database for health parameters in different housing systems. pp. 58–65. Retrieved December 16, 2010, from
Magdelaine, P 2009. Future prospects for the European egg industry. In XIII European Symposium on the Quality of Eggs and Egg products, Turku, Finland, 7p.
Mallet, S, Guesdon, V, Ahmed, AMH, Nys, Y 2006. Comparison of eggshell hygiene in two housing systems: standard and furnished cages. British Poultry Science 47, 3035.
Merrill, RJN, Cooper, JJ, Albentosa, MJ, Nicol, CJ 2006. The preferences of laying hens for perforated Astroturf over conventional wire as a dustbathing substrate in furnished cages. Animal Welfare 15, 173178.
Mollenhorst, H, Berentsen, PBM, De Boer, IJM 2006. On-farm quantification of sustainability indicators: an application to egg production systems. British Poultry Science 47, 405417.
North, MO, Bell, DD 1993. Feeding egg-type layers. In Commercial chicken production manual (ed. MO North and DD Bell), p. 913. Chapman & Hall, New York.
Protais, J, Queguiner, S, Boscher, E, Piquet, JC, Nadard, B, Salvat, G 2003. Effect of housing systems on the bacterial flora of egg shells. British Poultry Science 43, 788789.
Rodenburg, TB, Tuyttens, F, De Reu, K, Herman, L, Zoons, J, Sonck, B 2008. Welfare assessment of laying hens in furnished cages and non-cage systems: an on-farm comparison. Animal Welfare 17, 363373.
Shimmura, T, Eguchi, Y, Uetake, K, Tanaka, T 2008. Effects of separation of resources on behaviour of high-, medium- and low-ranked hens in furnished cages. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 113, 7486.
Shimmura, T, Azuma, T, Eguchi, Y, Uetake, K, Tanaka, T 2009. Effects of separation of resources on behaviour, physical condition and production of laying hens in furnished cages. British Poultry Science 50, 3946.
Tactacan, GB, Guenter, W, Lewis, NJ, Rodriguez-Lecompte, JC, House, JD 2009. Performance and welfare of laying hens in conventional and enriched cages. Poultry Science 88, 698707.
Tauson, R 2002. Furnished cages and aviaries: production and health. World's Poultry Science Journal 58, 4963.
Tauson, R 2005. Management and housing systems for layers – effects on welfare and production. Worlds Poultry Science Journal 61, 477490.
Vits, A, Weitzenburger, D, Hamann, H, Distl, O 2005. Production, egg quality, bone strength, claw length, and keel bone deformities of laying hens housed in furnished cages with different group sizes. Poultry Science 84, 15111519.
Wall, H, Tauson, R 2002. Egg quality in furnished cages for laying hens – effects of crack reduction measures and hybrid. Poultry Science 81, 340348.
Wall, H, Tauson, R, Elwinger, K 2002. Effect of nest design, passages, and hybrid on use of nest and production performance of layers in furnished cages. Poultry Science 81, 333339.
Wall, H, Tauson, R, Elwinger, K 2008. Effects of litter substrate and genotype on layers’ use of litter, exterior appearance, and heterophil:lymphocyte ratios in furnished cages. Poultry Science 84, 24582465.
Weitzenburger, D, Vits, A, Hamann, H, Distl, O 2005. Effect of furnished small group housing systems and furnished cages on mortality and causes of death in two layer strains. British Poultry Science 46, 553559.


Furnished cages for laying hens: study of the effects of group size and litter provision on laying location, zootechnical performance and egg quality

  • A. Huneau-Salaün (a1), M. Guinebretière (a1), A. Taktak (a1), D. Huonnic (a1) and V. Michel (a1)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed