Feather pecking genotype and phenotype affect behavioural responses of laying hens

Jerine A.J. van der Eijk*, Aart Lammers, Peiyun Li, Joergen B. Kjaer, T.B. Rodenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Feather pecking (FP) is a major welfare and economic issue in the egg production industry. Behavioural characteristics, such as fearfulness, have been related to FP. However, it is unknown how divergent selection on FP affects fearfulness in comparison to no selection on FP. Therefore, we compared responses of birds selected on low (LFP) and high feather pecking (HFP) with birds from an unselected control line (CON) to several behavioural tests (i.e. novel object (NO), novel environment (NE), open field (OF) and tonic immobility (TI)) at young and adult ages. Furthermore, the relation between actual FP behaviour (i.e. FP phenotypes) and fearfulness is not well understood. Therefore, we compared responses of birds with differing FP phenotypes. Feather pecking phenotypes of individual birds were identified via FP observations at several ages. The number of severe feather pecks given and received was used to categorize birds as feather peckers, feather pecker-victims, victims or neutrals. Here we show that HFP birds repeatedly had more active responses (i.e. they approached a NO sooner, vocalized sooner and more, showed more flight attempts and had shorter TI durations), which could indicate lower fearfulness, compared to CON and LFP birds at both young and adult ages. Within the HFP line, feather peckers had more active responses (i.e. they tended to show more flight attempts compared to victims and tended to walk more compared to neutrals), suggesting lower fearfulness, compared to victims and neutrals. Thus, in this study high FP seems to be related to low fearfulness, which is opposite to what previously has been found in other experimental and commercial lines. This stresses the need for further research into the genetic and phenotypic correlations between FP and fearfulness in various populations of chickens, especially in commercial lines. Findings from experimental lines should be used with caution when developing control and/or prevention methods that are to be applied in commercial settings. Furthermore, activity and/or coping style might overrule fearfulness within the HFP line, as HFP birds and feather peckers within the HFP line had more active responses. This might indicate a complex interplay between fearfulness, activity and coping style that could play a role in the development of FP.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-150
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume205
Early online date1 Jun 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

Keywords

  • Activity
  • Coping style
  • Fearfulness
  • Feather pecking
  • Genotype
  • Phenotype

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