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Feather-Peckers Prefer High-Fibre Diet

27 August 2012, at 1:34am

GERMANY - As a group, hens that had a tendency to feather-peck ate more of a high-fibre diet than those selected for low feather pecking behaviour, according to new research from the University of Hohenheim.

Previous studies in laying hens have demonstrated a negative correlation between feather pecking and the dietary fibre content of the feed, according to R Kalmendal and W. Bessei of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. However, the factors underlying this relationship are not fully understood.

In a new experiment published in Poultry Science recently, they hypothesized that birds prone to feather pecking would prefer a diet supplemented with dietary fibre. Thus, they investigated the voluntary consumption of a wheat-soy control diet (CON) and a diet supplemented with eight per cent spelt hulls (FIB) at the expense of wheat in 20 individually caged hens selected for high feather pecking (HFP) behaviour and 20 individually caged hens selected for low feather pecking (LFP) behaviour.

The proportional intake of FIB was 0.39 and significantly different from 0.50.

Confirming the scientists' hypothesis, HFP had higher proportional intake of FIB (0.43) than LFP hens (0.36).

The HFP hens had inferior plumage condition, were heavier and ate more than the LFP birds.

The HFP hens plucked more feathers from a simple inanimate feather-pecking model although the number of feathers being pulled out did not correlate with the proportional intake of FIB.

The preference for feed supplemented with spelt hulls was different between hens displaying different feather-pecking behaviour, concluded the University of Hohenheim researchers but they added that the underlying reason for such a difference needs further investigation.

Reference

Kalmendal R. and W. Bessei. 2012. The preference for high-fiber feed in laying hens divergently selected on feather pecking. Poult. Sci., 91(8):1785-1789. doi: 10.3382/ps.2011-02033

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