Selection on feather pecking affects response to novelty and foraging behaviour in laying hens
Feather pecking (FP) is a major welfare problem in laying hens, influenced by multiple factors. FP is thought to be redirected foraging behaviour, however fearful birds are also known to be more sensitive to develop FP. The relationship between fear-responses, foraging and FP is not well understood, thereforewestudied the behaviour of 16 birds from a high feather pecking (HFP) line and 16 birds from a low feather pecking (LFP) line at 35 weeks of age inside a plus-maze. Birds were from the 10th generation of selection for either high or low FP. First exposure to the maze was used to measure birds’ fear-responses to a novel barren environment. Hereafter, birds were trained three times in the maze with four different fooditems that were offered in one of the four arms (i.e. regular food-pellets, feathers, grass, and mealworms hidden in wood-shavings). On the fifth day, birds were tested in the maze for 10 min during which they could choose to eat from all available food-items. When exposed for the first time in the maze HFP birds walked a longer distance, vocalized sooner and had more exploratory pecks compared to LFP birds who showed more wing-movements and defecations. When given a choice of food inside the maze both lines preferred eating worms, but HFP birds had more worm-eating bouts and ate faster than LFP birds. The results of this study indicate that HFP birds respond actively to fear-eliciting situations, which may originate from a proactive coping style. Instead of a clear preference for eating feathers, this study supports earlier findings that HFP birds have a stronger pecking motivation than LFP birds.
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01 November 2010
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