Early life experiences affect the adaptive capacity of rearing hens during infectious challenges

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This study aimed to investigate whether pre- and early postnatal experiences of rearing hens contribute to the ability to cope with infectious challenges at an older age. In a 2 × 2 factorial arrangement, 352 Lohmann Brown chicks were exposed to either suboptimal or optimized incubation plus hatch conditions, and to cage or enriched rearing from week 0 to 7 of age. After week 7 all rearing conditions were similar until the end of the experiment. The development of adaptive capacity to infectious challenges was investigated by introducing an Eimeria and Infectious Bronchitis (IB) infection on day 53 and day 92, respectively. BW gain and feed intake during the infections, duodenal lesions and amount of positive stained CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells and macrophages at day 4 and day 7 after Eimeria infection, as well as the IB antibody titer throughout the experimental period were determined. The results showed a significant interaction between incubation plus hatch and rearing environment. Optimized incubation plus hatch conditions followed by an enriched rearing environment resulted in the least weight loss (P <0.05) and the highest feed intake (P <0.01) from day 3 to day 7 after the Eimeria infection (day 56 to 60 of age), compared with all other treatments. In addition, the optimized × enriched chicks had the highest BW gain from day 7 to day 14 after IB infection (day 99 to 106 of age), compared with chicks housed in a cage environment (P <0.01). Besides the interaction, optimized incubation plus hatch alone resulted in reduced macrophage numbers in the duodenal tissue at day 4 after Eimeria infection, compared with suboptimal incubation plus hatch, whereas the enriched rearing environment stimulated the recovery of intestinal damage caused by Eimeria (P <0.05) and reduced the production of specific antibodies after IB infection (P <0.05), compared with the cage environment. In conclusion, this study shows that early life experiences can indeed affect the capacity of rearing hens to cope with an Eimeria and IB infection at an older age, in which performance of chicks is best maintained after optimized incubation plus hatch followed by enriched rearing. This suggests that the development of adaptive capacity to infectious challenges can be influenced with management during a short period in pre- or early postnatal life, but that effects last for a considerable time after cessation of the specific management
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1688-1696
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • prenatal stress
  • incubation-temperature
  • immune-system
  • egg size
  • corticosterone
  • performance
  • chickens
  • growth
  • feed
  • responses


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