Genetic and Phenotypic Correlations Between Feather Pecking and Open-Field Response in Laying Hens at Two Different Ages

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The object of this research was to study the relationship between feather pecking and open-field activity in laying hens at two different ages. A population of 550 birds of a laying hen cross was subjected to an open-field test at 5 and 29 weeks of age and to a social feather pecking test at 6 and 30 weeks of age. Factor analysis was used to identify underlying factors for each test: pecking behavior (social test) and open-field activity (open-field test). In young birds, a positive phenotypic correlation of 0.24 was found between high open-field activity and high levels of pecking behavior (ground pecking, preening, gentle feather pecking, and wall pecking). In adults, a similar genetic correlation of 0.62 was found. At adult age, the factor pecking behavior consisted mainly of gentle and severe feather pecking. Between ages, a strong, negative genetic correlation of −0.65 was found between open-field activity at young age and pecking behavior at adult age, indicating that open-field activity levels in young birds may predict pecking behavior in adult hens.

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