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Open AccessArticle

Behavioural Variability in Chicks vs. the Pattern of Behaviour in Adult Hens

Institute of Biological Basis of Animal Production, University of Life Sciences in Lublin, Akademicka 13, 20-950 Lublin, Poland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(2), 269;
Received: 22 December 2019 / Revised: 5 February 2020 / Accepted: 6 February 2020 / Published: 9 February 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Suffering and Welfare)
Environmental requirements ensuring behavioural welfare to laying hens may vary depending on the breed. Chickens representing various breeds and reared in the same environment were found not only to differ in the level of activity, emotional arousal, and degree of curiosity, but also to prefer different enrichments of the environment, which was reflected by different levels of stress in these birds. Hence, a question was posed whether the behavioural differences observed were innate behavioural patterns typical of the breed or whether they are an effect of the modifying impact of the environment, which varies between breeds. It has been hypothesised that differences observed already in chicks of different breeds may not be associated with the modifying effect of the environment. Instead, they may be a genetically determined breed-specific behaviour. The present investigations consisted in behavioural tests and assessment of the behaviour of chicks of three laying hen breeds. The study involved 60 green-legged partridge (Zk), 60 Polbar (Pb), and 60 Leghorn (Lg) chicks. The investigations have demonstrated that the birds from the analysed breeds exhibit behavioural differences already on the first days of life. The effect of the breed was evident in the case of such traits as strategy for acquisition of food resources, fearfulness/curiosity, and interest in elements of the environment. With age, chicks may exhibit changes in their emotions, e.g., more pronounced fearfulness, and environmental preferences. However, in the latter case, there is clear tendency towards breed-specific behaviours exhibited from the first days of life. The level of activity, which largely differentiates adult birds, does not discriminate between chicks.
The aim of the study was to assess the behaviour of chicks of three different breeds of laying hens differing in the activity, emotional reactivity, and environmental preferences. Another objective was to answer the question whether the behavioural differences between adult birds would be evident already in the chick period or whether they are an effect of the further modifying impact of the environment. 60 green-legged partridge, 60 Polbar, and 60 Leghorn chicks were used in the experiments. The chicks hatched in a flock where hens were previously assessed with behavioural tests and the corticosterone levels in their feathers was determined, indicating significant differences in the temperament and stress level between the breeds. Five tests were carried out: two on competitiveness, activity, interest and fearfulness/curiosity. The experiments revealed considerable differences between the chicks. The Zk birds coped better with situations requiring swiftness and initiative. The Pb chicks were slower than Zk and Lg and did not make quick decisions. Hence, a lower number of these birds entering and leaving the test cage and staying inside was recorded. The Zk chicks exhibited a higher level of fearfulness than the other breeds. In terms of the environment enrichment elements, sand and woodchips were more attractive to the Zk chicks, whereas the Lg and Pb birds preferred pecking the string. No differences in the time of undertaking the analysed activities were found between the breeds. View Full-Text
Keywords: behavioural test; breed of laying hens; chick; temperament behavioural test; breed of laying hens; chick; temperament
MDPI and ACS Style

Rozempolska-Rucińska, I.; Kasperek, K.; Drabik, K.; Zięba, G.; Ziemiańska, A. Behavioural Variability in Chicks vs. the Pattern of Behaviour in Adult Hens. Animals 2020, 10, 269.

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