By Tony McDougal. Poultry World, 2 Oct., 2017.
The UK branch of the World’s Poultry Science Association held its annual conference in Cambridge this summer. Scientists looked at poultry feathers and skin – the past, present and future of poultry integument.
Management risk factors and genetic influences have an effect on feather pecking, according to the University of Bristol’s Christine Nicol.
Thea van Niekerk, from the Wageningen Livestock Research centre, Netherlands, adds prevention is most important as once feather pecking begins, the behaviour is very hard to stop.
Ms van Niekerk explains that optimising rearing conditions to prevent injurious pecking was the first step: “The most important strategy in rear is a continuous presence of good substrate to stimulate foraging behaviour and to teach the pullets to direct their pecking towards the litter.”
Esther Ellen and Piter Bijima, of Wageningen University Research Animal Breeding and Genomics centre, assessed genetic solutions to injurious pecking.
They argued that, while behavioural observations can be used to select against feather pecking, they were expensive, time consuming and difficult to apply in animal breeding. Instead, a solution could come from quantitative genetic methods that took into account both the direct (DGE, victim effect) and indirect genetic effect (IGE, actor effect).
“For the survival time, we found that the victim effect contributes 35-87% of total heritable variation. Together, they explain 15-26% of total phenotypic variation in survival time.
Professor Nicol’s joint paper with Dr Claire Weeks, ‘Provision of a resource package reduces feather pecking and improves ranging distribution on free-range layer farms,’ was published in the Applied Animal Behaviour Science in July.