Contrafreeloading and foraging related behavior in hens differing in laying performance and phylogenetic origin

Different breeds of domestic and jungle fowl differ in foraging strategies indicating that domestication resulted in modified energy saving behavioral strategies. In the present study we investigated foraging strategies and foraging related behavior in four lines of laying hens differing in phylogenetic origin and laying performance to analyze a possible relationship between foraging and the level of egg production. High performing brown and white pure bred lines were compared with their low performing brown and white counterparts. To control possible effects on behavior other than genetic effects, all hens were reared and kept in an identical environment. A total of 72 hens from each line were kept in 6 compartments with 12 hens per compartment, respectively. Observations were done for three times during one laying period. Foraging strategy was tested by a contrafreeloading (CFL) paradigm. CFL describes a behavior in which animals prefer food that requires effort to obtain, although at the same time food is freely available. The hens were offered a commercial standard diet in one trough and a mixture of wood shavings and commercial standard diet in another trough. The behavior of hens was video recorded and the activity level of individual hens in the litter area was recorded by an antenna-transponder system.

The high performing layers showed less CFL and foraging related behavior compared with their low performing counterparts in both the white and brown layers. Despite differences in CFL, all hens showed a preference for the commercial standard diet compared to the mixture of wood-shavings.

Our results show an association between foraging strategy and level of egg production. This suggests that a high level of egg production is accompanied by behaviors enabling the hens to satisfy their higher energy demand more efficiently. Saving energy by reduced activity probably allows them to reallocate energy into reproduction, i.e. laying performance.


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