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A Model of Feather Pecking Development Which Relates To Dustbathing in the Fowl

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A model which explains feather pecking development as a process by which feathers become treated as a substrate for dustbathing was tested. Chicks kept in wire floored cages were trained from day 3 of life to dustbathe during one hour daily training sessions on either a skin with feathers or on sand. By day 25-26 sand and feather trained chicks dustbathed equally much during training. Feather trained chicks, however, pecked and scratched less. During 3 consecutive dustbathing tests with feathers and sand presented simultaneously, and, in between tests, with additional experience of the new substrate, feather trained chicks increased their pecking and scratching until test 3 where they pecked and scratched the sand as frequently as sand trained chicks. However, they pecked significantly more at feathers than the sand trained chicks and on average still performed 52% of their dustbathing on feathers. Furthermore, the number of pecks at feathers during the last dustbathing choice test was significantly correlated with the percent of dustbathing (vertical wing-shaking) on feathers. The total number of vertical wing-shakes did not change significantly and was similar to that of sand trained chicks. Sand trained chicks never performed dustbathing on feathers and the experience of feathers did not result in significant quantitative changes in any of the behaviours. In the tests the latency to the first vertical wing-shake increased significantly in feather trained chicks after experience of sand. Experience of feathers, however, had no such effect in sand trained chicks. Finally, the progression over the hour of the last training session and of the 3rd choice test of vertical wing-shaking was slower in feather trained than in sand trained chicks. In conclusion, the proposed model was confirmed by the results: pecking at feathers and dustbathing on feathers persisted and remained related in feather trained chicks although their pecking and scratching predominantly became directed to sand. Furthermore, as expected from the model experience of feathers had no effect on sand trained chicks. It is suggested that an association between dustbathing and feather pecking might be prevented by formation of a strong association between dustbathing and attractive stimuli like sand and peat as early as possible.

Affiliations: 1: Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Department of Animal Science and Animal Health, 13 Bülowsvej, DK-1870 Frederiksberg C (Copenhagen) Denmark


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