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Slow and steady wins the race? No signs of reduced welfare in smaller broiler breeder hens at four weeks of age

By C. Lindholm, A. Calais, J. Jonsson, N. Yngwe, E. Berndtson, E. Hult, J. Altimiras

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Broiler breeder chickens are commonly reared under strict feed-restriction regimes to reduce obesity-induced health and fertility problems during adult life, and are assumed to experience a reduced welfare due to the resulting hunger. In these conditions, feed competition could influence the growth rate, so that the individuals falling behind in growth would experience more stress and hunger. We hypothesised that these chickens are poor competitors due to a reactive coping style and experience a further reduced welfare situation before size-sorting ('grading') at four weeks of age. Our results from open field, tonic immobility and home pen activity monitoring show signs of lower fear and higher home-pen activity levels in smaller hens and do not support the idea of reactive coping. H/L ratios of smaller hens were also found to be lower, indicating less stress in these birds. Dissections of smaller and larger four-week breeder hens may offer an explanation in the form of a relatively larger gastrointestinal tract in smaller birds. We argue that this is a form of habituation to restricted feeding, offering these birds a physiological stress coping mechanism, and that low early growth rate may not always be a sign of poorer welfare in broiler breeders.

Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 24
Issue 4
Pages 447-454
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
DOI 10.7120/09627286.24.4.447
Language English
Author Address AVIAN Behavioural Genomics and Physiology Group, IFM, Linkoping University, 581 83 Linkoping,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal nutrition
  2. Animals
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Birds
  5. Breeding
  6. Broilers
  7. Digestibility
  8. Digestion
  9. Feeding
  10. Feed intake
  11. Feeds
  12. Fertility.
  13. Fowls
  14. Growth
  15. Health
  16. Hens
  17. Hunger
  18. monitoring
  19. peer-reviewed
  20. performance traits
  21. Poultry
  22. rate
  23. ratios
  24. restricted feeding
  25. Stress
  26. systems
  27. vertebrates
  1. peer-reviewed