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Research article2018Peer reviewedOpen access

Ability of Laying Hens to Distinguish Between Companions According to Their Success in Gaining Access to Food

Wichman, Anette


Laying hens (Gallus gallus) are social birds with cognitive abilities related to having a functional interaction with their peers. Gaining knowledge about for example new food sources from other individuals can be a valuable complement to individual learning and probably even more so if one copies the behavior of successful individuals. In this study the aim was to investigate if a bird would identify another bird as being successful at gaining access to food. A social cognition feeding test was developed where birds could move freely together between several scattered food sources. Two different methods were used for training. In method 1, the observer hens were exposed to a skilled demonstrator hen that gained access to the food sources and an unskilled demonstrator hen (that gained no access to food) at the same time when trained together in a trio. In method 2, the observer was trained in two different pair constellations, with a skilled and unskilled demonstrator, respectively. In the test situation for both methods birds were paired, one observer was tested once with the skilled demonstrator and once with the unskilled demonstrator. Observations of how much the observer birds followed the two different demonstrators to the food sources, although no food was available during testing, were carried out. Observers trained in trios (method 1) did not show any difference in following behavior between the skilled and unskilled demonstrator, but observers that had been trained in pairs (method 2) showed more following behavior toward the skilled demonstrators than the unskilled demonstrator (P = 0.005). Thus the results indicate that laying hens are able to use another bird as a cue of whether they will get access to food.


laying hens; social cognition; learning; foraging behavior; informed decision

Published in

Frontiers in Veterinary Science
2018, Volume: 5, article number: 234

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG2 Zero hunger

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Animal and Dairy Science

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