Individual consistency of feather pecking behavior in laying hens: once a feather pecker always a feather pecker?

C.L. Daigle, T.B. Rodenburg, J.E. Bolhuis, J.C. Swanson, J.M. Siegford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The pecking behavior [severe feather, gentle feather, and aggressive pecks (AP)] of individual White Shaver non-cage laying hens (n = 300) was examined at 21, 24, 27, 32, and 37 weeks. Hens were housed in 30 groups of 10 hens each and on 3 cm litter with access to a feeder, perch, and two nest boxes. The number of severe feather pecks given (SFPG) and received (SFPR) was used to categorize hens as feather peckers (P), victims (V), neutrals (N), or feather pecker-victims (PV) at each age. Hens categorized as PV exhibited pecking behaviors similar to P and received pecks similar to V. SFP given were correlated with APs given, but not with gentle feather pecks (GFP) given throughout the study. State-transition plot maps illustrated that 22.5% of P remained P, while 44% of PV remained PV throughout the duration of the study. Lifetime behavioral categories identified hens as a consistent feather pecker (5%), consistent neutral (3.9%), consistent victim (7.9%), consistent feather pecker-victim (29.4%), or inconsistent (53.8%) in their behavioral patterns throughout their life. Consistent feather peckers performed more SFP than hens of other categories, and consistent neutral hens received fewer GFP than consistent feather PV. No differences in corticosterone or whole blood serotonin levels were observed among the categories. Approximately, half of the population was classified as a feather pecker at least once during the study, while the remainder was never categorized as a feather pecker. Therefore, even if the development and cause of feather pecking may be multifactorial, once the behavior has been developed, some hens may persist in feather pecking. However, as some hens were observed to never receive or perform SFP, emphasis should be made to select for these hens in future breeding practices.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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