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Forskningsartikel2022Vetenskapligt granskadÖppen tillgång

Increasing Environmental Complexity by Providing Different Types of Litter and Perches during Early Rearing Boosts Coping Abilities in Domestic Fowl Chicks

Nazar, Franco Nicolas; Skånberg, Lena; Mccrea, Kirste; Keeling, Linda


Simple Summary The benefits of rearing chicks in complex environments rather than barren environments are well established. However, the typical rearing environments for modern laying hens are still considerably more barren than the complex forest habitat of their ancestors. This small-scale experimental study investigated whether giving chicks of white Bovans Robust the possibility to express choices between different variants of the same resource could result in them being better able to cope with challenges, as well as being better able to make the most of new opportunities. We found that chicks with access to different types of litter and perches were less fearful, less chronically stressed, and were better prepared to cope with pathogenic challenges. Furthermore, they were more successful in a repeated opportunity test, implying an improved learning ability. Overall, the results suggest that rearing laying hen chicks in an environment with access to variation in relevant resources could be a simple and feasible way to increase complexity under commercial conditions. This input could result in them being more resistant to infection and better able to adapt to novel situations later in life. Early experience of a complex environment can improve biologically relevant traits related to coping abilities. However, the mechanisms underlying these positive effects have not been well explored. We hypothesized that giving chicks possibilities to express choices within relevant resources could be an important part of the mechanism, as well as a novel way to increase environmental complexity. In a balanced design, laying hen hatchlings of the white hybrid Bovans Robust were reared in a "single-choice" environment (single litter and perch type) or a "multi-choice" environment (four different litter and perch types). Immunological and behavioral indicators of chicks' coping abilities were explored in this experimental study at three weeks of age. Chicks from "multi-choice" environments had shorter durations of tonic immobility, lower heterophil/lymphocyte ratios, higher natural antibody concentrations, and were more successful in gaining novel food rewards in a repeated opportunity test. These results imply that chicks having access to variation within resource types were less fearful, experienced less chronic stress, would be more able to cope with pathogenic challenges, and potentially had an improved learning ability. To conclude, the more complex environment, achieved by increasing chicks' possibilities to choose, seemed to make chicks better prepared for potential challenges, boosting their adaptive capacities and their ability to make the most of opportunities.


adaptability; immunology; stress; laying hens; animal welfare; resilience; development; learning

Publicerad i

2022, Volym: 12, nummer: 15, artikelnummer: 1969
Utgivare: MDPI} {AG