The relation between fearfulness in young and stress-response in adult laying hens, on individual and group level

E.N. de Haas, M.S. Kops, J.E. Bolhuis, A.G.G. Groothuis, E.D. Ellen, T.B. Rodenburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Fearfulness of an individual can affect its sensitivity to stress, while at the same time the social situation in which an animal lives can affect its fear level. It is however unknown what the long-term effects of high fearfulness on sensitivity to stress are, on individual or group level in laying hens. We hypothesize that increased fearfulness at a young age results in increased sensitivity to stress at an adult age, and that this relation can differ between groups, due to differences in group composition. Therefore, we studied the relation between fearfulness in an Open Field (OF) test at six weeks of age and plasma-corticosterone (CORT) levels after a 5-min Manual Restraint test (MR) at 33 weeks of age, and assessed behavior in the home pen. We used birds from a low mortality line, selected for four generations on low mortality due to feather pecking and cannibalism, and a control line (n = 153 in total, eight pens/line). These lines are known to differ in fearfulness and stress physiology. Chicks from the low mortality line were more active in the OF compared to chicks from the control line. Chicks that showed a fearful response (no walking, no vocalizing) in the OF test had higher CORT at 33 weeks of age than chicks that walked and/or vocalized in the OF test and had higher activity in the home pen as adults. On group level, a passive response in the OF test was related to high CORT levels after MR. Presence of at least one fearful bird in a group led to higher CORT responses in the other group mates compared to birds from groups with no fearful birds present. Birds from groups in which more than 50% of birds had severe comb lesions had higher CORT levels compared to birds from groups with less than 50% of birds affected. High fearfulness of laying hen chicks can on individual level have a long-term effect on stress physiology. The presence of fearful birds in a group as well as signs of social instability in a group, indicated by comb lesions, can affect sensitivity to stress of birds from the same group. The mechanism by which this occurs can lie in social transmission of (fear related) behavior, but this suggestion needs further investigation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-439
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • open-field response
  • feather pecking
  • corticosterone responses
  • novelty-seeking
  • red junglefowl
  • domestic-fowl
  • genetic lines
  • animal-models
  • low mortality
  • behavior

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The relation between fearfulness in young and stress-response in adult laying hens, on individual and group level'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this