During the completion of my bachelor’s degree in Public Health Science at Ontario Tech University, I developed an interest in nutrition and environmental sustainability. While my studies did explore how the decisions that consumers make at the supermarket affect the environment as well as physical and mental health, I wanted to know more about the impact of these decisions on the welfare of farm animals in commercial systems. This led me to pursue a master’s degree in Animal Behaviour and Welfare under the supervision of Dr. Tina Widowski. My research explored the willingness of laying hens to perch on structures found within a commercial aviary system.
Laying hens are highly motivated to engage in perching and roosting behaviours, and the impairment or inability to perform such behaviours can negatively affect their welfare. As stated by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), laying hens must be able to wrap their toes around a structure for it to be considered a perch. Contrarily, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) states that a perch can be the edge of a structure from which the birds have a vantage point. The inconsistencies between NFACC and other organizations like EFSA in defining appropriate perching structures have caused producers, auditors, and animal welfare scientists to question whether structures on the aviary itself should be counted towards perch space.
The scientific literature addresses the preferred perch characteristics of laying hens in commercial systems (e.g. shape, material, colour, diameter, height), yet little research explores the willingness of laying hens to perch on alternative structures found within the aviary system such as stepping rails. My first objective was to determine whether laying hens preferred round perches, mushroom-shaped perches, or stepping rails during the daytime and the nighttime. My second objective was to determine any differences in roosting behaviours and balance movements exhibited by the laying hens on each of the test perches.