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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2003

Social effects on dustbathing behaviour in laying hens: using video images to investigate effect of rank

Lundberg AS, Keeling LJ


We chose to study dustbathing behaviour in laying hens, since it is often assumed that this behaviour is socially facilitated, but it has not been tested. In addition, we investigated the effect of social rank, since this is known to be important in other aspects of hen social behaviour. Twelve high and 12 low ranked birds were used as test animals and 4 middle ranked birds were recorded on video and used as stimulus birds. After 9 days of litter deprivation, each bird was tested in a cage with sand on the floor in front of a video monitor. After a 1 h pre-test period, during which the test hen could dustbathe and get familiarised with movements on the television screen, the 2 h test period began. Three different test videos were used; a dustbathing hen, a standing hen, and an empty cage, with each bird seeing all three videos. Differences were found in the number of birds dustbathing, the number of dustbathing bouts and the latency to dustbathe. Fewer high ranked birds than low ranked birds started to dustbathe in response to the standing hen video and they had fewer dustbathing bouts. High ranked birds dustbathed sooner if they were shown a video image of a dustbathing hen compared to a standing hen. There were no effects on the duration or intensity of dustbathing in either high ranked or low ranked birds. We suggest two interpretations for these results, either high ranked birds were socially facilitated to initiate dustbathing by a video image of a dustbathing hen, or high ranked hens were inhibited in starting to dustbathe by the image of the standing hen. We propose that our results raise the question as to whether social facilitation is as clear phenomenon as earlier workers, who have only worked with feeding and drinking behaviour, suggest. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved

Published in

Applied Animal Behaviour Science
2003, Volume: 81, number: 1, pages: 43-57