Feather pecking in laying hens: new insights and directions for research?

T.B. Rodenburg, Y.M. van Hierden, A.J. Buitenhuis, B. Riedstra, P. Koene, S.M. Korte, J.J. van der Poel, T.G.G. Groothuis, H.J. Blokhuis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this paper is to present new insights and promising directions for future research on feather pecking in laying hens. Our starting point was a multidisciplinary research program on feather pecking in The Netherlands, in which ethological, physiological, ontogenetic and genetic approaches were combined. The four topics addressed in this paper are: (1) the relation between gentle and severe feather pecking, (2) feather pecking and coping strategy, (3) causation of feather pecking, and (4) the possibility to solve the problem of feather pecking through genetic selection. When the relationship between gentle and severe feather pecking was studied, it was found that both forms of feather pecking are related at the same age. Gentle feather pecking at young age, however, could not be used as a predictor of feather pecking at adult age. Birds from high and low feather pecking lines that showed differences in feather pecking also differed in other behavioural and physiological characteristics. This may reflect line differences in coping strategy. Relating coping strategy with feather pecking may help us to better understand the motivations and characteristics underlying the development of feather pecking. On the causation of feather pecking, there is some evidence that it is redirected ground pecking, deriving either from a foraging or a dustbathing background. However, evidence was found that early feather pecking could also be interpreted as social exploration. Finally, the use of molecular genetics to help solving the problem of feather pecking seems promising. Feather pecking has been shown to be heritable and the first genetic regions (QTL) involved in feather pecking have been identified. To search for a solution for the feather pecking problem it is of importance to identify the mechanisms involved in the development of feather pecking. In this paper, we have combined approaches from different disciplines in order to study feather pecking. The results indicate that combined efforts of multidisciplinary research can be very useful in looking for possible ways to reduce feather pecking in practice
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-298
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • open-field response
  • 2 different ages
  • social transmission
  • tonic immobility
  • manual restraint
  • domestic chicks
  • behavior
  • lines
  • heritability
  • selection


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