Main content area

Individual production differences do not explain cannibalistic behaviour in laying hens

Yngvesson, J., Keeling, L.J., Newberry, R.C.
British poultry science 2004 v.45 no.4 pp. 453-462
laying hens, cannibalism, abnormal behavior, breed differences, hybrids, feed conversion, egg production, feed intake, nutrient deficiencies, hen feeding, oviposition, mortality, longevity, bacterial contamination, bacterial infections, animal injuries, animal welfare, cloaca, poultry diseases
1. Sixty-three laying hens were collected from 5 commercial farms experiencing outbreaks of cannibalism. It is known that cannibalistic behaviour varies strongly between hybrids and between individuals of the same hybrid. The aim of this study was to test specific hypotheses about the causation of cannibalism by comparing matched individuals varying in their cannibalistic behaviour. 2. To investigate feed efficiency, egg production and feed consumption, data were collected over 30 d. Nutrient deficiencies have been associated with outbreaks of cannibalism and we hypothesised that cannibals are more feed efficient than their flock mates and, therefore, more susceptible to transient nutrient deficiencies or imbalances that trigger cannibalistic behaviour. 3. Video recordings were made of victims of cloacal cannibalism and their matched controls during oviposition. Victims were expected to have longer oviposition durations and a higher incidence of short-term cloacal prolapses than controls, because the starting point for cannibalism is often suggested to be pecking at the red mucosa of the victim during, or just after, oviposition. 4. Oviduct swab samples were taken from surviving victims of cloacal cannibalism and their matched controls 4 weeks after the cannibalistic attack. If peck wounds provide a route for subsequent bacterial invasion of the reproductive tract, victims would be expected to have greater bacterial colonisation of the oviduct. 5. Mortality within each matched trio was recorded over a 23-month period after the cannibalistic attack. Victims that survived a cannibalistic attack were expected to have reduced longevity compared to controls and cannibals. This could occur if they developed secondary infections as a result of the cannibalistic attack, or if they had poorer health even before the attack. 6. No significant differences were found between cannibals, victims and controls in feed efficiency or any of the production variables measured. Victims of cloacal cannibalism did not expose their cloacal mucosa more, or for longer, than matched control hens during oviposition, and had no more bacteria in their oviduct. Victims tended to die sooner than their matched cannibals or cannibals during a 23-month period after a cannibalistic attack.