Department of animal husbandry and behavior Working group Poultry
Pullets pecking stimuli on a touch screen in the experiment investigating pecking preferences (Photo: Joergen Kjaer)
Investigation of pecking preferences in chickens from layer lines divergently selected on feather pecking behaviour
Domestic chickens from lines selected for low (LFP) or high (HFP) levels of feather pecking (FP) were reared in 14 bird groups and pecking to various forms presented on a computer screen was recorded at 2 weeks of age. HFP chickens delivered significantly more pecks (combined for all forms: circle, ellipse, rod, rods in feather like pattern and feather in colours: red, yellow, green) than LPF chickens, whereas no significant effects were found for form, colour, hatch or interactions. Total FP (sum of gentle and severe FP) was significantly higher in HFP chickens and decreased significantly with increasing age from 6 over 9 to 21 days. According to the ‘changed template’-hypothesis, pecking preferences of HFP chickens would differ to those of LFP chickens but data could not support this hypothesis. Rather, the HFP chickens pecked at any form and colour with a much higher intensity than the LFP chickens lending support to the hyperactivity model of feather pecking in that genetic selection for a higher level of FP is paralleled by a higher level of arousal leading to increased pecking to animate (FP) as well as inanimate (i.e. forms on a screen) stimuli.