Recent research work in Germany has confirmed that high levels of production and satisfactory egg quality can be achieved from furnished (enriched) cages for laying hens. Giving more floor space and providing perches, they offer health and welfare benefits, such as a significant increase in bone strength, compared with conventional cages, said Dr. Anne Vits, product manager for poultry vaccines for Lohmann Animal Health.

Dr. Vits was involved in a two-year study on approximately 17,300 birds and three different furnished cage systems at the Institute of Animal Breeding and Genetics, University of Veterinary Medicine, Hanover, Germany. She added, “From an economic point of view, the furnished cage system seems to be a worthwhile alternative to existing housing systems for laying hens”.

An EU directive will ban the use of conventional cages by the end of 2011 but with no time limitations for furnished cages, these could become an important feature of the laying industry in the future, especially if certain features were developed further.

The birds in the two trials were kept in groups of between 10 and 60 in furnished cages, four tiers high, ranging in size from 625mm (24 in) x 1206mm (47 in) to 1250mm (49 in) x 3618 mm (141 in), giving each hen at least 750cm2 (116 sq in.) of space. Each cage was equipped with perches, nest box, dust-bath, devices to shorten claws and wood-shavings as litter.

Dr. Vits concluded that the success of such housing systems could be strongly influenced by management. A number of problems still needed to be solved, including a high level of keel-bone deformities. Lohmann Animal Health, 2005.