The effect of an audience on the gakel-call and other frustration behaviours in the laying hen (Gallus gallus domesticus)
When thwarted in a behaviour, laying hens show an increase in stereotyped pacing, displacement preening and a specific vocalisation known as the 'gakel-call'. How these behaviours, which might serve as indicators of welfare, are influenced by social factors is not yet known. In this
study, we investigated the effect of an audience (another bird or a human) on the expression of the gakel-call and other behaviours indicating frustration. Twenty-four Lohman Brown hens were trained to gain free access to food in a test cage. Sixteen hens were used as test birds and eight
as non-test audience birds. The food-deprived test hens were tested for 15 min in a non-thwarting situation (food freely available) and for 15 min in a thwarting situation (food covered but visible). For both situations we investigated four different treatments: no audience in the adjacent
cage; a non-thwarted audience bird in the adjacent cage; a thwarted audience bird in the adjacent cage; and finally a human audience. The durations of stereotyped pacing and displacement preening were significantly higher in test birds during thwarting than during non-thwarting; thwarted birds
also gave significantly more gakel-calls compared to non-thwarted birds. The test birds, and also the audience birds, gave more gakel-calls when thwarted in the presence of a thwarted conspecific than when in the presence of a non-thwarted bird, but there were no significant differences in
stereotyped pacing or displacement preening, which are usually associated with frustration. In conclusion, this study supports the view that the gakel-call signals frustration in laying hens. Furthermore, the state of the audience influences the occurrence of gakel-calls in thwarted hens.
Thus, when using the gakel-call as a welfare-indicator, the social aspects of the vocal expression of frustration in laying hens should not be overlooked.