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The effect of early colour preference and of a colour exposing procedure on the choice of nest colours in laying hens

By B. Huber-Eicher

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Abstract

It has been observed that hens at the start of lay show a strong preference for a limited number of nests, i.e. those at the corners and at the ends of rows. This leads to overcrowded nests and, as a consequence, to more aggression and an increase in cracked and mislaid eggs. This study aims to verify whether nest colour can be used to increase the attractiveness of nests, as this could counter-balance the aforementioned positional effects. In detail, a contemporary hybrid was tested to see whether it demonstrates early colour preference, and if this affects nest colour preference, and additionally, whether exposing chicks to specific colours at an early age could influence nest colour preference later on. During the first 12 days of life, eight groups of 15 chicks were exposed to one of four colours (blue, green, yellow and red; two groups per colour). In two additional groups of 92 chicks, individuals showing high preferences for these colours were identified. 50.5% chose yellow more often than any other colour, 32.1% chose red, but only 7.1 and 2.2% preferred green and blue, respectively. 8.1% of the chicks did not show preferences for a single colour but preferred two or three different colours equally. Sixteen hens from each of the following eight categories were then tested for their choice of nest colours at the start of lay (weeks 19-22): those exposed to blue, green, yellow or red during the first 12 days of life, those selected at the same age for their preference of yellow, red, yellow and red, and those which were selected because they had shown no preference to any particular colour during the first 12 days of life. Not enough individuals had shown clear preferences for blue or green at an early age to be tested later on. As hens, the birds were tested in 32 groups of four. Each bird of a group originated from a different category and each group had a choice of four double nests, each painted in one of the four colours blue, green, yellow or red. Hens that were exposed at an early age to blue, green or red did not prefer corresponding nest colours when in lay. The same is true for hens showing preference of red or red and yellow at an early age. All these hens showed a significant preference of yellow nests when in lay, and were indifferent to blue, green and red nests. However, birds selected for their preference of yellow at an early age, and also those that were exposed to yellow did not show this general preference of yellow nests, but were indifferent to all four nest colours offered. It is discussed how these results may contribute to the reduction of overcrowded nests at the start of lay.

Date 2004
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 86
Issue 1/2
Pages 63-76
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2003.12.003
Language English
Author Address Swiss Federal Veterinary Office, Centre for Proper Housing: Poultry and Rabbits, Burgerweg 22, CH-3052 Zollikofen, Switzerland. beat.huber@bvet.admin.ch
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Tags
  1. Animal behavior
  2. Birds
  3. Chickens
  4. Color
  5. Egg production
  6. Fowls
  7. Hens
  8. nesting
  9. nests
  10. peer-reviewed
  11. Poultry
  12. preferences
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  1. peer-reviewed