The influence of losing or gaining access to peat on the dustbathing behaviour of laying hens

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Abstract:

This study investigated the influence of being reared with or without access to peat as well as the effects of losing or gaining substrate access on the dustbathing behaviour of young, domestic fowl (Gallus gallus domesticus). There were four treatments, based on the period of time chicks had access to peat during rearing: (i) always (LL), (ii) never (NN), (iii) from 0 to 6 weeks of age (LN) and (iv) from 6 weeks of age onwards (NL). Observations on the number and length of dustbaths performed were made for six days with birds aged six weeks and 50% of the birds either lost or gained access to litter. The birds then remained in the same treatment conditions until 16 weeks of age, at which point the same behavioural observations were repeated. NL birds (which had just gained access to peat) were found to be quicker than LN birds (which had just lost access to peat) to perform a dustbath during the first observation period. A significant difference was seen in the variation of the duration of the dustbathing bouts; both LL and NL birds varied less in the lengths of their bouts than NN and LN birds over both observation periods. Hence, early rearing environment had less effect on birds' dustbathing behaviour than current access or lack of access to litter. The irregular dustbathing pattern exhibited by birds that dustbathe without litter could be a sign of frustration; an indication that dustbathing without litter — unlike dustbathing in litter — does not provide the required feedback.

Keywords: ANIMAL WELFARE; DOMESTIC CHICKEN; DUSTBATHING; GALLUS GALLUS DOMESTICUS; LITTER; REARING

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2009

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