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The effect of diet change on the behaviour of layer pullets

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Frequent diet change has been identified as a risk factor for feather pecking in commercial flocks but the mechanism underlying this association is not known. In this experiment we simulated a commercial change of diet between high quality (HQ) 19% protein, and low quality (LQ) 15% protein, diets. Twelve pairs of birds were fed both diets simultaneously for 38 days to determine whether clear preferences for the diets existed. A further 12 triplets of birds were fed either HQ or LQ diets for 38 days to examine any absolute effects of quality on behaviour. The remaining triplets received, on day 29, either a LQ to HQ diet change (n = 12 groups) or an HQ to LQ diet change (n = 12 groups). Half of the groups in these diet change treatments received oregano oil as a potential 'masking' agent to disguise the diet change. No dietary preferences were detected and there were no absolute effects of diet on behaviour. Diet change provoked significant increases in beak-related activity. Specifically, affiliative pecking (allopreening directed towards comb or beak) was increased after diet change. Masking the diet reduced the effects of diet change. Injurious pecking remained at low levels throughout the experiment and was not affected by diet change, but the relationship between affiliative pecking and subsequent injurious pecking requires further investigation.
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Keywords: ANIMAL WELFARE; CANNIBALISM; CHICKEN; DIET; FEATHER PECKING; LAYING HEN

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-05-01

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