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Open AccessOpinion

Importance of Basic Research on the Causes of Feather Pecking in Relation to Welfare

Division Animals in Science and Society, Animal Behaviour, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University Utrecht, 3508 TD Utrecht, The Netherlands
Division of Farm Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Behavior & Welfare Group (Formerly Emotion & Cognition Group), University Utrecht, 3584 CL Utrecht, The Netherlands
Brain Center Rudolf Magnus, Universiteitsweg 100, 3584 CG Utrecht, The Netherlands
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(2), 213; (registering DOI)
Received: 14 December 2019 / Revised: 13 January 2020 / Accepted: 21 January 2020 / Published: 28 January 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Feather Pecking in Laying Hens and Its Effects on Welfare)
Feather pecking is a problematic behavior shown by commercially held laying hens who peck at and pull out feathers of their pen mates. In effort to battle the economic and welfare issues that result from feather pecking many studies on the subject focus on practical solutions (i.e., they follow an applied research approach), while basic research related to feather pecking, research without a practical aim in mind, has received far less attention. Both applied and basic research contribute to a better understanding of feather pecking behavior. In this article we argue that basic research could make an important contribution to science-based knowledge of the causes of feather pecking and the welfare of hens performing this behavior and of the hens receiving the pecks.
Feather pecking is a prominent issue in the commercial egg industry, associated with economic losses and welfare problems. A non-systematic literature search suggests that studies on feather pecking are predominantly concerned with applied research goals. That is to say, they aim to solve or diminish the effects of this problematic behavior by orienting towards practical approaches. The strong emphasis on this research approach has skewed our knowledge of the causes of feather pecking in relation to welfare. While the need for such research is high, there is an equivalent need for basic research that has not received corresponding effort. Also, current research predominantly focuses on the negative effects on the birds being pecked, whereas too little attention is given to the possible welfare problems of the peckers. We argue that more basic research is needed for obtaining comprehensive science-based knowledge of behavioral needs and abilities of hens, in particular with respect to behavioral problems that threaten their welfare. View Full-Text
Keywords: feather pecking; animal welfare; industrial farming; basic research; applied research feather pecking; animal welfare; industrial farming; basic research; applied research
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Fijn, L.B.; van der Staay, F.J.; Goerlich-Jansson, V.C.; Arndt, S.S. Importance of Basic Research on the Causes of Feather Pecking in Relation to Welfare. Animals 2020, 10, 213.

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