Agonistic Behavior In Carrying Hens

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Introduction Aggressive behaviour in laying hens may be problematic, especially when behaviours such as feather pecking and cannibalism occur (Hughes, 1997). One article states that, in small flocks of laying hens, aggressive behaviour is exhibited when unfamiliar birds are present (D’Eath, 2003). Chickens tend to form dominance hierarchies, which leads to fighting to establish dominance, which may also be called a pecking order (D’Eath, 2003). In smaller flocks, once dominance has been established, the laying hens remember the status of the chickens they have been associated with (Wood-Gush, 1971). In large flocks of laying hens, there are a few factors that cause aggressive behaviours, including:
• High stocking density (Dennis, 2011)
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Although the number of chickens in this flock was only approximately 100, it was expected that there would be a low frequency because, as Estevez et al stated, having flocks of 100 or more laying hens will decrease the amount of agonistic interactions (2002). As stated before in the results section, the frequency of the interactions was calculated to be 5.142/hour. This answered the question of how frequently do agonistic interactions occur in a mixed flock of laying hens.

In the experiment conducted, the aggressive behaviours that were observed were mostly pecking or chasing incidents. In one article, it says that perhaps the reason that feather pecking has become more common over time is because chickens have not been allowed to exhibit ground pecking behaviours because some are placed in cage systems and have no real opportunity to ground peck (Nicol, 1999). Another article states that feather pecking has developed from food pecking, ground pecking, and pecking while dustbathing (Rodenburg, 2007). In the system in which the observations were made, this wouldn’t have been a factor however because the chicken able to roam and peck the ground as much as they
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The conditions were not ideal for observing chickens performing their natural behaviours. It rained almost the entire 70-minute period and the observer also had to walk a short distance at every 2-minute interval in order to observe the entire flock. This disturbance may also have influenced the frequency of agonistic interactions.

Conclusion The question asked in the beginning was how frequently would agonistic interactions occur in a mixed flock of laying hens. It was determined in this experiment that the frequency of agonistic interactions in a mixed flock of laying hens was low, with only 5.142 agonistic interactions/hour. It is recommended that for future studies, a different time interval be used for the instantaneous scan sampling. Also, it is recommended that for a future study, a comparison between systems be used, rather than relying on one system for all data

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