The aim of the present work was to compare the effect of organic production vs standard cage system on
welfare and performance of a pure breed (Ancona) vs a commercial strain (Brown Hy-Line) of laying hens through a
multifunctional approach (behaviour, tonic immobility, feathers score, antioxidant status of the body, blood parameters,
innate immunity and mortality). The trial was carried out in farm of the Dpt. of Applied Biology (University of Perugia),
where 17-weeks-old females of Ancona breed (n=200) and Brown Hy-Line (n=200) were divided in 2 homogenous
groups of 100 birds each and assigned to cage or organic rearing systems.
The genotype of the hens affected in a degree which depends on rearing system almost all the variables. The feeding and
resting activities were higher in caged whereas moving activities were higher in organic hens and especially in Ancona
birds. Social relationships showed genotype and rearing system effects being higher in Brown Hy-Line hens particularly
when reared in cage. The TI duration was affected by genotype and rearing system being the immobility time longer in
Brown Hy-Line. The plumage condition showed a great rearing system effect and genotype effects was observed only
between organic groups where Ancona hens showed the better feathers condition. Regarding native immune status serum
bactericidal activity showed the highest values in organic hens and mainly in Ancona ones. On the contrary, lysozyme
showed greater value in caged hens. The haptoglobin value was lower in organic Ancona group, the same hens showed
about 30% greater reactive oxygen substances, but accompanied by highest the antioxidant power. Organic rearing
system, mainly in the Ancona hens, induced the highest red blood cells, haemoglobin and hematocrite values.
Lymphocytes were higher in Organic birds thus reducing the H/L ratio in Organic hens. As expected, organic birds
showed the worst feed efficiency and percentage of deposition, but the lowest mortality rate. In conclusion, on the basis of
all these information together with the low mortality rate, Ancona hens showed the better welfare status, mainly when
they were organically reared.
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