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Conference abstract, 2022

Making the most of life : the effects of the early environment on later behaviour in laying hens

Skånberg, Lena; Holt, Regine Victoria; Newberry, Ruth C.; Estevez, Inma; Nazar, Nicolas; Keeling, Linda


Early experiences can impact individual’s abilities to make the most of future
opportunities by affecting exploration, spatial skills and learning. This study aimed
to identify specific environmental inputs during rearing that could promote these
traits. During Early-rearing (Day 1-Week 4), 364 one-day-old laying hen chicks (16
pens) were housed in one of two environments; “Multi-Choice” (four litter and
perch types) or “Single-Choice” (one litter and perch type). During Mid-rearing
(Week 5-15), half of the groups changed to the opposite environment, resulting in
four treatment combinations. At Week 16, all groups were moved to standard laying
pens. Birds’ responses were assessed in behavioural tests offering opportunities to
find mealworms and from video recordings following transfer the laying pens. A
Hole-board Habituation Test (Week 9-10) was carried out in a novel arena with
birds alone or in groups of three. Repeated Challenge Tests (Week 14 and 17) were
carried out in the home pen at the group level. Birds with “Multi-Choice” during
Mid-rearing ate proportionally more mealworms in the behaviour tests compared
to “Single-Choice” birds (P<0.05, GLM). Across all treatment combinations
(P<0.05, GLM) except that in which the birds had “Multi-Choice” in both rearing
periods, fewer mealworms were eaten during the Hole-board Habituation Test
when tested alone vs in a group. Irrespective of their Mid-rearing environment,
birds with “Multi-Choice” during Early-rearing tended to use the perches sooner
(P=0.06, Kruskal Wallis), and to lay eggs at higher locations (P=0.06, Kruskal
Wallis), after transfer to the laying pens (Week 16-27) whereas birds with “Single-
Choice” in both periods were slower to move and explore the laying pen (P<0.05,
GLM). In conclusion, providing variation within resource types is a straightforward
way to increase environmental complexity and this early input boosted birds’
abilities to gain rewards and use novel resources.

Published in

Rapport (Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, Institutionen för husdjurens miljö och hälsa)
2022, number: 58, pages: 14-14
ISBN: 978-91-576-9951-0


32nd Nordic region winter meeting of the International Society for Applied Ethology, 220126-220128, digital meeting