University of Saskatchewan researchers looking into ideal hen environments

The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is participating in a project that is taking a closer look at the ideal living conditions for laying hens.

Graduate student Jo Ann Chew is determining how baby hens, also known as pullets, function in different levels of light.

“If light intensity is too low, there’s a risk for crashes or failed landings in the environment, which can lead to bone breakages or a decrease in bone health. So that can affect egg quality negatively,” she said.

Chew is looking for the ideal light where hens can navigate their pens and participate in typical behaviour while living in a newer environment.

The research is being conducted as egg producers are moving away from conventional cages to alternative ones.

The cages and pens being used in the project have space for pullets to do some of their mannerisms like perching.

U of S associate professor Karen Schwean-Lardner noted hens retrieve the calcium that are in eggs from their feed.

“If it’s not meeting those requirements, she may pull some from the bone,” she said.

“If they don’t start out with strong bones, that (can become) an issue later on in life.”

Saskatchewan Egg Producers said care of hens is its number one priority and that it supports research to ensure farming practices are using the best science.

The project is looking at about 3,600 pullets in pens with three different light levels to see which one is best for navigating the pen and making sure the birds exhibit those mannerisms.

The results of the study, which also includes data from McGill University and the University of Guelph, is expected to be ready next summer.

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