Effect of housing environment on laying hen meat quality: Assessing <i>Pectoralis major</i> pH, colour and tenderness in three strains of 80–81 week-old layers housed in conventional and furnished cages

<p>1. Meat quality is affected by factors such as stress, genetic strain and activity and is determined in part by measures of pH, colour and tenderness. In conventional laying hen cages (CC), lack of physical space and inability to perform highly motivated behaviours leads to stress and inactivity. Furnished cages (FCs) permit expression of highly motivated behaviours, but typically house larger group sizes than CC, thereby contributing to social stress. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of CC and FC laying hen housing environments and strain differences on meat quality of 80–81-week-old birds.</p> <p>2. <i>Pectoralis major</i> meat quality was assessed for two flocks of Shaver White (SH), Lohmann Lite (LL) and Lohmann Brown (LB) hens housed in either 5-hen CC or 40-hen FC. Between 80 and 81 weeks, muscle samples were collected from randomly selected hens and analysed for muscle pH, colour and shear force (SF) using established methods.</p> <p>3. In both flocks, the combined treatment body weights (BWs) were higher for CC than FC hens and the combined strain BWs were higher for LB than LL and SH hens. Flock 1 LB had lower initial and ultimate pH than SH and LL, and greater pH decline than SH. Muscle redness (<i>a</i>*) was higher for CC SH than FC SH in both flocks. Muscle <i>a</i>* was higher for LL than SH and LB in Flock 1, and higher than SH in Flock 2. Housing differences in muscle SF were absent. In CC, SF was higher for SH than LL and LB in Flock 1, and higher than LB in Flock 2.</p> <p>4. Lack of housing differences suggests that environmental stressors present in both housing systems similarly affected meat quality. Strain differences for muscle pH, <i>a</i>* and SF indicate increased stress experienced by SH and LL hens. The absence of Flock 2 strain differences is consistent with the cannibalism outbreak that occurred in this flock and most severely impacted LB hens.</p>