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Behavioural development in groups of pen-housed pullets in relation to genetic strain, age and food form

, : Behavioural development in groups of pen-housed pullets in relation to genetic strain, age and food form. British Poultry Science 38(1): 38-47

1. Behavioural development in groups of 8 pullets kept in pens with litter floors, and fed on either mash or pellets, was studied from 0 to 10 weeks in a White Leghorn times broiler (F2) hybrid line (experiment 1) and from 0 to 24 weeks in Hisex, White Leghorn and Brown Leghorn strains (experiment 2). The aim was to identify precursors of feather pecking and cannibalism. 2. Rates of body weight gain were consistently greater with pellets than with mash in both experiments. In experiment 2, the onset of lay was at 17 weeks of age in Hisex, 21 weeks in White Leghorns and 23 weeks in Brown Leghorns. 3. Persistent feather pecking, which was not seen in experiment 1, developed in 2 of 12 groups one Hisex and one White Leghorn, both fed on pellets) in experiment 2, and was studied in detail at 23 and 24 weeks. The more damaging pecking in the Hisex group was followed by cannibalism in the same group. 4. Based on the (often inconsistent) effects of genetic strain, age and food form on behaviour that were observed, a working hypothesis was constructed to account for the aetiology of feather pecking and cannibalism in situations where there is floor litter. 5. An age-related decline in one or more foraging activities may coincide with increases in preening and non-damaging pecking at other birds. Consumption of litter particles and moulted feathers may be reinforcing. Dustbathing may enhance the stimulus value of litter particles when they are contrasted against background plumage colour. This may direct pecking towards the backs of birds, where feathers as well as litter particles may be removed and eaten. Regular pecking and feather removal may lead eventually, after the onset of lay to vent pecking and cannibalism. This sequence of events may be more likely in groups where activity levels are high.

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Accession: 002763677

PMID: 9088611

DOI: 10.1080/00071669708417938

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