Campus Units

Animal Science, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, Microbiology

Document Type


Publication Version

Accepted Manuscript

Publication Date


Journal or Book Title

Poultry Science




The gastrointestinal health of poultry can be impacted by a variety of factors including their environment. As egg production moves from conventional cage housing (CC) towards cage-free housing (CF), it is important to understand this impact on intestinal health. This study was conducted to determine if housing type impacted intestinal permeability, morphology, and microbial communities in commercial hens across housing systems. Hens were randomly selected from 2 rooms of CC (n = 25) and CF (n = 25) at a commercial facility. Birds were given fluorescein isothiocyanate dextran (FITC-D) by oral gavage to measure intestinal permeability. Jejunal and ileal samples were collected to evaluate villus height, crypt depth and their ratio. Ileal contents were collected for bacterial DNA isolation and 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Serum FITC-D was similar between housing type (P = 0.709). Hens housed in the CF had increased jejunal villus height and crypt depth compared to hens from the CC (P < 0.002). Hens from the CC tended to have a greater villus height to crypt depth ratio in both the jejunum and ileum compared to the CF (P = 0.064; P = 0.091, respectively). Microbial community diversity measurements favored hens housed in the CC as ileal contents tended to have increased species richness (P = 0.059), had greater alpha diversity (P = 0.044), and had an increased number of over represented OTUs (46/64), including Romboutsia sp. (30.80%), Lactobacillus kitasatonis (17.16%), and Lactobacillus aviarius (11.15%). Correlations between microbial communities with intestinal traits identified significant association with the greatest number of correlations with FITC-D and ileal morphology. Many of these correlations identified microbial communities associated with expected traits; thus, providing limited functional data to microbial communities with limited information. The greater number of correlations of ileal morphology with ileal microbial communities suggesting local microbial communities contribute to the intestinal environment distant. In this limited study, several parameters favored hens from CC suggesting an advantage of this system for intestinal health. However, the lower intestinal health parameters observed in CF were not at levels to indicate detrimental effects.


This is a manuscript of an article published as Wiersema, Maddison L., Lucas Koester, Stephan Schmitz-Esser, and Dawn A. Koltes. "Comparison of intestinal permeability, morphology, and ileal microbial communities of commercial hens housed in conventional cages and cage-free housing systems." Poultry Science (2020). doi: 10.1016/j.psj.2020.10.052.

Copyright Owner

Published by Elsevier Inc. on behalf of Poultry Science Association Inc.



File Format


Published Version