Survival of Laying Hens: Genetic Parameters for Direct and Associative Effects in Three Purebred Layer Lines

E.D. Ellen, J. Visscher, J.A.M. van Arendonk, P. Bijma

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75 Citations (Scopus)


Mortality due to cannibalism is a major problem in laying hens. Due to prohibition of beak-trimming in the European Union, this problem will increase in the near future. One solution to reduce mortality due to cannibalism is to use genetic selection. Mortality due to cannibalism, however, differs from conventional breeding traits, because it depends on social interactions among individuals. Selection strategies aiming to reduce cannibalism, therefore, should consider both the direct effect of an individual on its own survival and the social effect of the individual on the survival of its group members (the so-called associative effect). Traditional breeding, however, accounts for only the direct effect. Recently, methods have been proposed to estimate variance components and breeding values for both direct and associative effects. This paper presents estimated genetic parameters for direct and associative effects on survival days in 3 purebred laying lines. For the analysis, 16,780 hens with intact beaks were used. When considering only direct effects, heritabilities ranged from 2 through 10%. When considering both direct and associative effects, the total heritable variance, expressed as a proportion of phenotypic variance, ranged from 6 through 19%. These results show that heritable variation in survival days is substantially larger than suggested by conventional direct effects models. This means that prospects for reducing mortality by means of genetic selection are good and may lead to substantial reduction of 1 of the major welfare problems in egg production.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-239
JournalPoultry Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • feather pecking
  • group selection
  • multilevel selection
  • behavior
  • inheritance
  • competition
  • responses
  • chicks
  • strain
  • cages

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