McAdie, Tina M. and Keeling, L.J. (2000) Effect of manipulating feathers of laying hens on the incidence of feather pecking and cannibalism. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 68 (3). pp. 215-229. ISSN 0168-1591

Feather pecking is a problem in commercial laying hens, particularly in loose-housing systems, where many hens can be affected by only a few feather peckers. In addition, feather pecking can become an even larger problem if it spreads throughout the flock. There are several possible ways that feather pecking may spread. The simplest way is that one hen may damage the feathers of a hen, and another hen may find the damaged feathers an attractive pecking target. The aim of this experiment was to determine if damaged feathers were feather-pecked more than undamaged feathers on the same body area, and to determine whether some types of feather-body area manipulations were preferred over others as pecking stimuli. Manipulations involved damaging the feathers on the rump, tail or belly of different hens, with two or three levels of severity of manipulation at each body area. Sixteen groups of 11 Lohmann Brown hens between 26 and 28 weeks were observed with the recipient, the feather pecker and the body area that was pecked all being recorded. The feather pecks were classified separately as either gentle or severe. Damaged feathers received significantly more severe feather pecks than undamaged feathers. There were also more gentle feather pecks to damaged feathers, although this did not reach statistical significance. The feather-body area manipulations that received the greatest number of severe feather pecks were the tail feathers when they were cut very short, the rump feathers when they were trimmed, and the rump when feathers were removed. These results support the suggestion that feather pecking does indeed spread through flocks by damaged feathers becoming an attractive target for feather-pecking behaviour. An unexpected result of performing the feather manipulations was an outbreak of cannibalism in half of the experimental groups. Even though there was no visible damage to the skin of the hens after having the feathers manipulated, 13 of the 16 attacked hens were wounded on the part of the body where the feathers had been damaged in some way.

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