The effects of selection on low mortality and brooding by a mother hen on open-field response, feather pecking and cannibalism in laying hens
The aim of the present study was to investigate the effects of selection on low mortality in combination with brooding by a mother hen on open-field response at 5–6 weeks of age and on plumage and body condition at 42 weeks of age. Birds in the experiment were either selected for low mortality in group housing (low mortality line) or randomly selected (control line) for two generations. These lines originated from the same population. Twenty groups of 10 female birds from each line were used. Within each line, ten groups were brooded by a foster mother and ten groups were non-brooded. At 5–6 weeks of age, the chicks were tested in an open-field test for five minutes. At 42 weeks of age, plumage condition and incidence of comb lesions and toe wounds of all birds was recorded. It was found that both brooded chicks and chicks from the low mortality line were more active in the open-field test at 5–6 weeks of age, indicating that they were less fearful or had a stronger exploratory motivation. No interactions were found between selection on low mortality and brooding. Birds from the low mortality line also had a lower incidence of comb and toe wounds compared with the control line at 42 weeks of age. No effect of brooding on plumage condition or incidence of wounds was found. This study indicates that selection on low mortality is a promising way forward to reduce maladaptive behaviour in laying hens, especially if such an approach is combined with improved rearing conditions.
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