Laying hens are increasingly kept in barn or free-range systems, which not only allows birds to move freely but also potentially entails higher energy expenditures due to higher locomotor activity. Therefore, the aim of our study was to quantify the daily energy expenditure (DEE) and water turnover in freely moving laying hens. For that purpose, 10 Lohmann Selected Leghorn (LSL) and 10 Lohmann Brown (LB) hens were obtained from a conventional breeding company at 17 weeks of age. The trial started when birds reached an age of 34 weeks. All 20 birds were kept together in the same littered floor pen (12.1 m2). The pen was equipped with perches, a nest box, feeding and nipple drinkers. The DEE was determined individually for all experimental birds (n = 20) for a total of nine days using the doubly labelled water (DLW) method. Lohmann Brown hens were heavier than LSL hens, but laying rate did not differ between the two breeds, that is, one egg per hen and day during the study period. Average egg mass was 63.1 ± 0.20 g in LB and 61.7 ± 0.12 g in LSL hens, which converted to an egg energy content of 420 and 410 kJ/egg, respectively. Dilution spaces for oxygen and hydrogen differed between the breeds but not the respective turnover rates. Total body water as a percentage of body mass (LB: 54.4%, LSL: 53.8%; SEM = 0.7, F1,18 = 0.41, P = 0.513) and total water intake (TWI) per day (LB: 275 ml/day, LSL: 276 ml/day; SEM = 20, F1,17 = 0, P = 0.994) did not differ between LB and LSL hens. Individual DEE increased with body mass in LB but not in LSL hens. Average DEE did not differ between the two breeds (LB: 1501 kJ/day; LSL: 1520 kJ/day; SEM = 32.1, F1,17 = 2.54, P = 0.131). However, when comparing the DEE on a metabolic mass basis, LSL hens expended with 984 kJ/kg0.75 on average significantly more energy per day than LB hens (895 kJ/kg0.75; SEM = 20.3, F1,18 = 10.1, P = 0.005). Our results suggest that the DLW technique is a viable method to measure the energy expenditure and water turnover over several days in laying hens. Furthermore, we show that laying hens kept in floor pens fit into the general pattern of DEE among wild birds.
The authors thank Gabriele Kirchhof, Silke Werner, Klaus Gerling and Karsten Knop from the Institute of Animal Welfare and Animal Husbandry of the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut for technical help and Catherine Hambly from the Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences of the University of Aberdeen for the isotope analysis.
Financial support statement
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency, commercial or not-for-profit section
- Field metabolic rate
- Water metabolism