Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids provided during embryonic development improve the growth performance and welfare of Muscovy ducks (Cairina moschata)

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The welfare of ducks can be affected by unwanted behaviors such as excessive reactivity and feather pecking. Providing long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC n-3 PUFA) during gestation and early life has been shown to improve the brain development and function of human and rodent offspring. The aim of this study was to test whether the pecking behavior of Muscovy ducks during rearing could be reduced by providing LC n-3 PUFA during embryonic and/or post-hatching development of ducklings. Enrichment of eggs, and consequently embryos, with LC n-3 PUFA was achieved by feeding female ducks (n-3F) a diet containing docosahexaenoic (DHA) and linolenic acids (microalgae and linseed oil). A control group of female ducks (CF) was fed a diet containing linoleic acid (soybean oil). Offspring from both groups were fed starter and grower diets enriched with DHA and linolenic acid or only linoleic acid, resulting in four treatment groups with 48 ducklings in each. Several behavioral tests were performed between 1 and 3 weeks of age to analyze the adaptation ability of ducklings. The growth performance, time budget, social interactions, feather growth, and pecking behavior of ducklings were recorded regularly during the rearing period. No significant interaction between maternal and duckling feeding was found. Ducklings from n-3F ducks had a higher body weight at day 0, 28, and 56, a lower feed conversion ratio during the growth period, and lower reactivity to stress than ducklings from CF ducks. Ducklings from n-3F ducks also exhibited a significantly reduced feather pecking frequency at 49 and 56 days of age and for the whole rearing period. Moreover, consumption of diets enriched with n-3 PUFA during the starter and grower post-hatching periods significantly improved the tibia mineralization of ducklings and the fatty acid composition of thigh muscles at 84 days of age by increasing the n-3 FA content.

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