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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Environmental change or choice during early rearing improves behavioural adaptability in laying hen chicks

Skanberg, Lena; Newberry, Ruth C.; Estevez, Inma; Keeling, Linda J.

Abstract

Laying hens are typically moved to a novel environment after rearing, requiring adaptability to cope with change. We hypothesized that the standard rearing of laying hen chicks, in non-changing environments with limited choices (a single variant of each resource), impairs their ability to learn new routines, use new equipment and exploit new resources. On the contrary, rearing in a changing environment that also offers a choice of resource variants could better prepare chicks for the unexpected. To explore this hypothesis, environmental change and choice were manipulated in a 2 x 2 factorial experiment. Compared to standard rearing, greater change during early rearing, through repeatedly swapping litter and perch types, reduced initial freezing when exposed to a novel environment suggesting a lower fear response. Greater choice during rearing, through simultaneous access to multiple litter and perch types, resulted in shorter latencies to solve a detour task, more movement in novel environments and less spatial clustering, suggesting improved spatial skills and higher exploration. However, combining both change and choice did not generally result in greater improvement relative to providing one or the other alone. We conclude that environmental change and choice during rearing have different positive but non-synergistic effects on later adaptability potential.

Published in

Scientific Reports
2023, Volume: 13, number: 1
Publisher: NATURE PORTFOLIO