Effect of rearing environment on bone growth of pullets

P. Regmi, T. S. Deland, J. P. Steibel, C. I. Robison, R. C. Haut, M. W. Orth, D. M. Karcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Alternative housing systems for laying hens provide mechanical loading and help reduce bone loss. Moreover, achieving greater peak bone mass during pullet phase can be crucial to prevent fractures in the production period. The aim of this study was to determine the housing system effects on bone quality of pullets. Tibiae and humeri of White Leghorn pullets reared in conventional cages (CCs) and a cage-free aviary (AV) system were studied. At 16 wk, 120 birds at random from each housing system were euthanized. Right and left tibiae and humeri were collected and further analyzed. Cortical bone density and thickness were measured using computed tomography. Periosteal and endosteal dimensions were measured at the fracture site during mechanical testing. At 4, 8, 12, and 16 wk, serum concentrations of osteocalcin and hydroxylysyl pyridinoline were analyzed as markers of bone formation and resorption. Cortical bone density was higher (P < 0.05) in humeri of AV pullets, and tibiae were denser (P < 0.05) for AV pullets in the distal section of the bone compared to CC pullets. Ash content was higher (P < 0.05) in AV humeri with no difference in tibiae ash content. Tibiae and humeri of AV pullets had a thicker cortex than the CC pullets (P < 0.05). Additionally, the tibiae and humeri of AV pullets had greater (P < 0.05) second moment of areas than the CC pullets. While some bone material properties between groups were different (P < 0.05), the differences were so small (< 7%) that they likely have no clinical significance. Serum osteocalcin concentrations were not different between the treatments, but hydroxylsyl pyridinoline concentrations were higher in CC pullets at 12 wk compared to the AV pullets and the effect reversed at 16 wk (P < 0.05). These findings indicate that tibiae and humeri respond differently to load bearing activities during growth. The improved load bearing capability and stiffness in bones of AV pullets were related to increased cross-sectional geometry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)502-511
Number of pages10
JournalPoultry science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 14 2015


  • aviary
  • bone
  • mechanics
  • pullets
  • structure


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