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Some Aspects of Poultry behavior


Minia University Faculty of Agriculture Animal Production Department Some Aspects of Poultry behavior By Akrum Hamdy Behavior Behavior is the way that ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Some Aspects of Poultry behavior

Minia University Faculty of Agriculture Animal
Production Department
  • Some Aspects of Poultry behavior
  • By
  • Akrum Hamdy

  • Behavior is the way that birds respond to the
    different stimuli they encounter in their
  • The stimuli may be from other birds, their
    environment, people or any other thing.

General behavior
  • The domestic fowl by nature is a wary, shy animal
    with limited ability and short-term flexibility.
  • However, in the longer term, it displays a good
    ability to adapt to different circumstances and
    changing conditions.

  • It has excellent vision and hearing, but its
    other senses tend to be poorly developed.
  • A number of these behaviour activities are
    innate (inborn) and it is believed that inability
    to carry them out may lead to a state of

Social behavior
  • Fowls are a gregarious species with an elaborate
    social behaviour based on a definite group
    structure when kept in flocks.
  • Important signals are associated with the
    position of the head and the relative angles of
    the head and the body to other birds.
  • They maintain contact with flock mates by sight
    up to intermediate distances and by vocal
    communication at longer distances or if out of

Breeding behavior
  • The hen is a seasonal breeder and is secretive
    about its nesting site. It lays on a 23 to 26
    hour cycle producing up to 10-15 eggs before
    incubating them with only one major daily break
    for feeding and plumage care.

  • The male mates regularly with the hen and acts as
    an escort to and from the nest.
  • On hatching, the chickens rapidly imprint (bond)
    onto the hen. They move about with her, initially
    staying quite close and are brooded very often.
    As they grow and their need for brooding
    diminishes they range further and further from
    the hen.

Factors governing behaviour responses
  • There are a number of factors that influence the
    behaviour responses of fowls to any stimuli.
    These are
  • Genetic - the birds genetic make-up has an
    important influence on its reaction to any
    stimuli. Some strains are more docile than others
    and this characteristic responds to selection
    pressure. In a similar way, the fowl responds to
    selection for a number of behavioural
    characteristics, some considered to be quite
    important in their management.

  • Experience - while much of their behaviour is
    innate, there is that which has to be learned.
  • Chickens know instinctively how to eat, but they
    do not know what to eat or where to find it. In
    the natural situation, the hen teaches her brood
    what to eat and where to find it.

  • Age - in addition to the need to learn many
    aspects of their behaviour, age has another
  • Certain behaviour is not expressed until the
    chickens reach appropriate ages.
  • Examples of these behaviours include the
    reproduction behaviour.

  • Environment - the environment plays an important
    part in the way chickens respond or behave.
  • High light intensity tends to increase activity
    which is a beneficial response in very young
    chickens in encouraging them to seek food and
  • However, in older birds it can lead to harmful
    behaviour such as cannibalism.

  • Sight
  • The sense of sight is good with the embryo
    showing its first reaction to light at about day
    17 after the start of incubation.
  • Fowls have little mobility of the eye and while
    they have approximately 300 of vision, only 26
    are binocular.

  • Fowls have excellent acuity or sharpness of
    vision. They see colour in much the same way as
    humans and like humans are most sensitive to
    green. However, chickens prefer blue objects with
    red being the next preferred followed by orange
    and green. The contrast in colour is very
    important in attracting chickens e.g. to food and

  • The threshold of activity (the intensity when
    fowls become active under normal circumstances)
    is believed to be higher than for humans and this
    is used as an aid to management by scheduling
    handling procedures at night whenever possible.
  • The colour of light influences some behaviour and
    aspects of production efficiency but white light
    is generally preferred because it requires less
    power to achieve a given intensity and hence is
    more cost effective.

  • It is believed that fowls have very limited
    smelling ability because they are not repelled by
    obnoxious odour.

  • The fowls ear is well developed but is minus the
    ear lobe or pinna. It is located behind the eye
    and a tuft of feathers protects the opening.
  • Calls in the range of 250 to 3000 hertz are used
    in vocal communication. A large number of calls
    by chicks and adults have been identified.

  • Chickens are attracted to sounds that have a low
    frequency, short duration and which are
    repetitive i.e. the sound of a broody hen
    clucking to her chickens. A chicken in distress
    gives a loud, high frequency call.

  • Fowls have approximately 300 taste buds and they
    discriminate between strong tasting compounds,
    particularly in the drinking water. They will
    reject water that is above approximately 32C
    although they will drink very cold water.

  • They respond to touch- females will often adopt a
    sexual crouch when touched on the back.

Learning ability
  • While much of the fowls behaviour is inherent,
    they do need to learn in order to survive.
  • Newly hatched chickens know how to eat.
    Individuals will copy others and this is an
    important part of the learning process.
  • When a bird sees another pecking at something, it
    will copy, thus learning what to eat, and where
    to find food (and water).

  • Training in relation to a number of management
    requirements is an important part of flock
  • Fowls soon learn to pull, tug, peck, and scratch
    and their nature is such that they will remain at
    these tasks for lengthy periods.

  • They are good at visually discriminating tasks
    and tend not to generalise, i.e. they stay at the
    task at hand without becoming bored or becoming
    sidetracked. This limited flexibility means that
    they adapt to intensive forms of housing very
    easily and quickly unlike those species which do
    generalise and which do get side-tracked and

Social behaviour
  • There are a number of factors that influence
    social behaviour. These include
  • Individual recognition
  • Communication
  • Pecking and the peck order

Individual recognition
  • Fowls recognise each other by appearance based on
    the shape of the comb, wattles and head
  • Colour changes in plumage are identifiable, with
    intense colours being more noticeable than
    lighter or those with a washed appearance.

  • Only very abrupt, major changes result in a
    failure to recognise flock mates that have been
    altered. However, they forget each other fairly
    quickly. Members of flocks that are broken up
    forget each other within 3 to 4 weeks.

  • The fowl uses a variety of sounds in order to
    communicate with other fowls. The most commonly
    used are food calls, predator alarm calls, pre-
    and post-laying calls and rooster crowing.
    Chicken distress calls draw immediate attention
    from their broody hen. The clucking calls of the
    broody hen to her brood will result in all of the
    chickens gathering close to her. They will
    respond to these calls even played as a

  • Fowls communicate also with others by displays
    and changes in posture such as head up or head
    down, tail up or tail down, or feathers spread or
    not spread. Displays play an important part in
    mating behaviour. Thus communication plays an
    important part in the maintenance of individual
    personal space, flock organisation and integrity
    in a group situation.

Pecking and the peck order
  • Pecking as a skill is recognised as being species
    specific for fowls. They peck to escape from the
    shell, to feed, to drink, to obtain and keep
    personal space and to establish relationships as
    well as for other reasons. Hens maintain a
    personal space around their heads and keep a
    distance from each other by holding their heads
    at an angle and maintaining a specific body
    orientation or angle to other birds. If a direct
    head to head stance is adopted, pecking will
    usually result.

  • Submission is usually demonstrated by escape or
    crouching. However, the main purpose of pecking
    is for eating which is a precisely tuned movement
    of the head and neck. The food is picked up by
    one action and swallowed by another. Beak
    trimming changes the relationship between the top
    and bottom beak and, in so doing changes their
    ability to peck. They can no longer pick food
    particles from hard, flat surfaces and,
    consequently, food and water troughs must carry
    an adequate depth of food and water to ensure
    that the birds are able to obtain a sufficient
    quantity of both.

  • The pecking habit is used to establish a
    hierarchical organisation or ranking structure in
    the flock of dominant and progressively
    subordinate members. This organisation is
    established separately for males and females in
    the same flock. Called the peck order, the
    organisation commences at an early age and,
    depending on flock size and complexity, will be
    established by 10 to 16 weeks. This process
    follows a well-recognised sequence
  • For day 1 to 3 there is a strong imprinting or
    bonding period when the newly hatched chicken
    bonds onto the broody hen. In commercial
    situations they bond onto other objects and,
    because of this, are more easily trained.
  • This is followed fairly quickly by the
    development of escape behaviour - a protective
  • Shortly after, the first signs of aggressive
    behaviour are seen. Two chickens approach each
    other aggressively and then, before contact is
    made they race away i.e. escape.

  • This stage is followed by a period of play fights
    where they spar but do not make real contact.
  • The final stage is where real contact is made and
    is the truly aggressive stage. It is from these
    true fights that the dominant/subordinate
    relationships are established. The age that this
    is completed depends on the size and complexity
    of the flock but would be sometime after 10 weeks
    of age in most cases.
  • A separate peck order is established for males
    and females in mixed sex flocks.
  • Once established the birds live in a harmonious
    state with no obvious dominant/subordinate
    relationship until the flock structure is
    altered. In the practical situation, the manager
    must give consideration to the various aspects of
    the social organisation of his flock in order to
    minimise the disturbance of established
    relationships at those times when performance
    could be affected. Some key points in this aspect
  • Form new groups of hens before production starts,
    ie. move new layers into the laying house before
    production is due to start.
  • Do not move single birds or even small groups of
    birds from one flock to another.
  • Provide adequate space needs - floor, eating,
    drinking and, if appropriate, nesting space.
  • If it is necessary to join two groups, do so by
    separating the pen into two with wire netting and
    housing the groups, one on each side for a few
    days. Provide food and water for each group.
    After an appropriate time open the netting
    barrier a small amount to allow the two groups to
    mingle gradually. The conflict that will probably
    develop in the combined flock if the two groups
    are mixed immediately will probably result in a
    significant number being injured by pen mates.
  • Run males together as a group before placing them
    in the breeding pens.
  • Place a male in with a group of females to reduce
    pecking (this will produce some fertile eggs).

Roosting and perching
  • The desire to roost or perch above the ground is
    an inherent protective mechanism against ground
    predators. However, modern commercial stock do
    not necessarily seek to use perches when provided
    with them. This indicates that, in these strains,
    the urge has been weakened and some managers
    believe it is unnecessary to provide them. There
    is strong evidence, however, that layer and
    breeder replacements can be trained to better use
    nests thus reducing the number of floor eggs if
    platforms carrying food and water are located in
    pens of growing replacements.
  • The inclusion of roosts or perches and providing
    direct entry to nests from them in the laying
    house will also reduce the number of floor eggs
    in most cases. The development of the perchery
    system of housing is aimed at using the inherent
    behaviour to perch. The perchery permits a
    significant increase in the number of birds that
    will comfortably occupy the house. Another
    important benefit of perches in the pen is to
    provide a place of escape from harassment from
    pen-mates during periods of light.

Preening and other behaviour
  • This is another example of inherent behaviour and
    has the function of maintaining feather
    condition. These activities include dust bathing,
    oiling (of the feathers from the uropygial or
    preen gland) and preening with the beak or foot.
    Dust bathing is claimed to be a behaviour need of
    hens with the functions of ridding them of
    external parasites and to align the feathers.
    Failure to dust bathe is believed to lead to

Eating (maintenance) behaviour
  • At hatching, chickens inherently know how to peck
    and they can pick up objects i.e. eat. However,
    they do not know how to discriminate between what
    they should or should not eat. It is largely by
    trial and error that they find out the
    difference. Therefore, the first feeding
    experience should provide easy access to food and
    deny access to material other than food. The
    normal practice is to place paper on the floor of
    their accommodation and to sprinkle a small
    quantity of food on that for the first 24 hours.
    The paper is usually removed after about 3 days.
    It is also normal practice to place food in
    large, shallow trays called scratch trays or
    chick-type feeders for the first 7 - 14 days.

Feeding chicks
  • When reared by a hen the chickens feeding
    problems are greatly reduced because the hen
    shows them what to eat and what not to eat. She
    does this by example and vocal calls. There are a
    number of feeding systems that may be used by the
    poultry manager to feed the stock. Fowls are able
    to adapt to different types of feeders very
    easily provided the opportunity is given to do so
    progressively when changes are made. Therefore,
    once the chickens have learnt to discriminate
    between what is food and what is not, feeding
    systems can be changed and those systems can be
    operated at a height to minimise wastage and to
    fit other management requirements. Fowls are very
    adept at moving food particles with their beak.
    This can lead to selectivity of larger particles
    or in excessive wastage of food (up to 10). The
    problem of selectivity is overcome by preparing
    the food in finer form (but not too fine) or by
    pelleting. Placing a mesh on top of the food
    after filling can reduce food wastage from
    manually filled troughs. The mesh (recommended
    size 25 - 30 mm) prevents the birds flicking food
    particles and thus reduces food wastage.

Feed intake
  • There are a number of factors that will affect a
    bird's voluntary feed intake. Commercial poultry
    are usually fed a mixed feed that supplies the
    proper balance of nutrients, however poultry have
    the ability to balance their own dietary
    requirements if the main ingredients are provided
    separately in different receptacles. The
    materials supplying the major nutrient groups are
    provided independently and the hens eat
    sufficient of each to satisfy individual needs.
    Fowls eat small quantities frequently. However,
    their crop provides them with a good storage
    capacity and consequently, there is no
    relationship between the length of time between
    meals and the amount eaten. Even if deprived of
    food for several hours they can consume more when
    the food is available and store it in the crop
    till required.

Drinking (maintenance) behaviour
  • Chickens initially approach the water because
    they are attracted to some physical aspect eg. a
    bubble or dust on the surface. The mirror surface
    of very still water is less likely to attract
    them. Chickens hatched in incubators operated at
    low humidity or high temperature, or from eggs
    with thin shells, or where the eggs have been
    incorrectly stored prior to setting are likely to
    be dehydrated on arrival on the farm. High early
    brooding temperatures add to these effects. It
    is, therefore, imperative that they are given a
    drink as soon as possible after their arrival and
    that easy access to clean, cool, good quality
    water continues throughout their life.
  • Once they have learned where to find their water
    the drinkers should be adjusted for depth and
    height to ensure that spillage is kept to a
    minimum. The recommended depth is up to one
    centimetre and the height of the lip of the
    trough level with the bottom of the birds
    wattles. It is important with young chickens
    newly placed in the brooder that they be
    attracted to the drinkers. It thought that
    troughs are better for day olds than are bell
    type drinkers for this. Bottles are also better
    than bells. Important features are contrast, eg.
    the yellow and red of bottles at the base and
    with lip height less than 6 cm, i.e. not too high
    for them to see the water.

Water consumption and maximum temperature
  • Water consumption increases with egg production
    and with temperature. High environmental
    temperature causes the bird to commence panting
    to increase the elimination of body heat by the
    evaporation of water from the surfaces of the
    respiratory organs. If this did not occur the
    birds body temperature would increase until it
    becomes overly stressed and died from heat
    prostration. Therefore, the availability of good
    quality, cool, clean water is of the utmost
    importance in hot climates. Drinker systems that
    supply enough at lower temperatures may not be
    adequate at high temperatures. It should be noted
    also that poultry do not drink water that is over
    approximately 32C.
  • Fowls will adapt to different types of drinker
    systems providing the change is progressive.
    Sudden changes may result in some birds not
    learning to use the new system for some time.
    Recent research has shown that the type of
    drinker is not as critical as is that the water
    is easily available. The water and food should be
    co-located in the pen. Domestic fowls are
    discriminating in relation to taste in the water.
    They are likely to reduce consumption when the
    waters taste is too strong. This could have
    serious effects when using the water as a means
    of administering some medication.

Reproduction behaviour
  • Males usually reach sexual maturity at 16 weeks
    and upwards and this will vary greatly with
    management and genotype. Nutrition and lighting
    programs are of great importance in this respect,
    especially with modern commercial strains. Meat
    chicken breeders mature at an older age as a rule
    than do layer type stock.Although there is
    significant variability because of genotype the
    following are important in achieving good mating
    performance from males
  • The males have had previous mating experience.
  • Light breed males are more active than heavier
    genotypes but produce semen with lower sperm
  • Females will usually crouch more frequently for
    younger males that, in turn mate more often.
  • Higher socially ranked males mate more frequently
    initially, but this advantage is short lived.
  • Most mating occurs after mid-afternoon.
  • Mating ratios 8-10 males per 100 layer type
    females and 10-12 males per 100 for meat type
  • Increasing day length will stimulate semen
    production although sufficient is produced on
    normal day length.

  • Increasing day length will stimulate semen
    production although sufficient is produced on
    normal day length.
  • Water deprivation for 48 hours or longer will
    lead to a lower semen production for up to 6
  • High iodine intake in excess of 5,000 ppm causes
    a reduction in sperm quality.
  • Mouldy food, if eaten, may result in a lower
    sperm quality.
  • Males will mate many times during the day but
    many of the latter matings will be dry.

Courtship and broodiness
  • Males and females have an elaborate courtship
    sequence prior to mating. In a free-living
    situation females will commence mating behaviour
    as young as 18 weeks although this depends also
    on genotype, sexual maturity, nutrition and
    environmental factors. High status birds crouch
    less frequently than do lower status birds.
    Broodiness describes the changed state in the hen
    when egg laying ceases and the incubation of the
    eggs and subsequent mothering of the chickens
    begins. While the onset of this state is
    controlled mainly by hormonal mechanisms, the
    presence or absence of the broody trait is
    controlled genetically. Most modern strains have
    been selected for non-broodiness because, when in
    the broody state, the hen ceases to lay.

Hatching synchronisation and vocalisation
  • Activity that is of a behavioural nature can be
    detected in the incubating egg from about the
    17th day. The embryo is, at this stage, located
    so that its head is under the right wing and the
    beak is directed towards the aircell in the large
    end of the egg. Just prior to hatching the beak
    pierces the aircell and pulmonary respiration
    commences. At this stage the chickens commence
    vocalisation that acts as an auditory stimulus
    for the synchronisation of the hatching process.
    This synchronisation is enhanced if the eggs are
    in contact with each other.

Imprinting period
  • The chicken escapes from the shell by piercing it
    with its beak and then continuing to break
    through the shell as it rotates around the egg
    until the two parts separate and the embryo
    escapes. A hen will usually accept strange
    chickens in her brood during the first 3-5 days
    (i.e. the more intensive part of the imprinting
    period). After that she is likely to reject them.

Nesting behaviour
  • In the free-living state hens select a nesting
    site with great care, often accompanied by a male
    if there is one present. Nesting is characterised
    by secrecy and careful nest concealment. Nesting
    behaviour has four stages
  • Seeking a place to lay - a quite protracted
    activity as she becomes restless, and paces about
    giving pre-laying calls and showing
    characteristic body postures. In litter houses
    she will often examine the walls and corners.
  • Inspecting a number of nest sites before
    selecting one and entering it.
  • Settling, squatting and forming the nest by
    rotating her body several times, she usually
    stands to expel the egg.
  • After laying she examines the egg and leaves the
    nest, cackles and joins the rest of the flock.
  • The cackle will often bring a male back to her if
    such is possible. Mating often occurs at this

Nesting behaviour in cages
  • In cages the hen tries to adopt the same
    procedure, but because of the restrictions
    applied by cages, she cannot and consequently is
    believed to suffer a degree of frustration as
    demonstrated by the display of non-adaptive
    behaviour. She searches the cage, pushing other
    hens away till she settles. The time spent in
    laying is often a period of harassment from other
    hens. When the time to expel the egg arrives some
    squat while others stand to do so. The position
    adopted influences the number of cracked eggs -
    eggs expelled while standing are more likely to
    be cracked.
  • In wild flocks, nests are made on the ground in
    the semi-darkness of deep shadow. Where hens are
    housed in systems other than cages, they often
    select sites other than those provided i.e. they
    lay on the floor rather than in the nests. A
    minimum of one nest is required for each 5 hens
    and these should be available before the hens
    start to lay. Significant improvements in labour
    efficiency can be achieved by having the nests at
    a convenient height for the stock persons to
    collect from. It is therefore important that the
    eggs be laid in nests provided and not on the
    floor of the house. To avoid this, it is
    necessary to train the birds during the growing
    phase to use platforms off the ground. All nests
    should be at floor level at the start of laying
    and these are raised progressively once
    production has started and the birds are using
    the nests. All attractive floor-nesting sites
    should be eliminated.

Floor eggs
  • Hens will use single and/or community nests
    although timid birds are less likely to use the
    community type. In any one flock it is likely
    that both types will be found and hence better
    control of floor eggs may be achieved by giving
    the birds a choice of nest type. The following
    recommendations will help reduce the number of
    floor eggs produced by a flock
  • Fence off the corners of the pen and eliminate
    any dark areas in the house except in periods of
  • Provide more than the minimum number of both
    single and communal nests.
  • Open the nests before the birds start to lay.
  • Start with the nests at floor level and
    progressively lift these to normal operating
    height as production increases.
  • Limit floor litter depth to 10 cm.
  • Provide roosts or their equivalent during growing
    to train them to use the landing platforms on the
    nests when needed.
  • Provide roosts or slatted floor areas and locate
    nests close to these so that the hens can move
    directly from such floor to the nest landing
    platform and into the nest.
  • Make nests attractive by
  • providing sufficient nest litter and replacing it
  • keep nests darkened.
  • keep them free of lice and similar parasites.
  • Maintain landing platforms in good condition.
  • Collect eggs frequently nest eggs four times
    per day and floor eggs each 1-1.5 hours.

Stocking density
  • The key to success is ultimately to unlock the
    relationship between capital costs, production
    costs, returns and bird welfare. One important
    element in this relationship is that of stocking
    density - the number of birds placed into a given
    area. Production per bird tends to remain
    constant until flock size reaches a certain
    number. As this number is increased above what
    could be called the maximum stocking density,
    mortality will increase and production will
    probably decrease. The losses associated with
    this per bird production decrease will initially
    be more than compensated for by the increased
    total production from the house from the increase
    in the number of birds.
  • As the number of birds is further increased a
    point is reached when production losses from
    higher mortality and lower per bird production
    are so great that the increased total house
    population cannot compensate for them. There is a
    point before this where modern society will not
    accept the conditions that are considered
    inferior caused by increasing the number of
    birds. The successful manager will be he who
    takes into consideration all of these factors and
    who houses the maximum number of birds without
    reaching a population density not accepted by
    society. Therefore It is important form managers
    to be aware of regulations regarding stocking
    densities and cage size.

Early handling
  • When young chickens are given a lot of attention
    and are handled gently but frequently, they
    respond by better growth, resistance to disease
    and usually react less to stress and are less
    fearful. Those flocks where this approach to
    management is used and continued throughout the
    birds life will have a significantly lower
    reaction to day-to-day management problem
    situations. Making time to spend with the stock
    will result in better production efficiency and
    well being of the birds.

Non-adaptive or displacement behaviour
  • While poultry are known for their adaptability,
    they do possess innate behaviour needs that, if
    they are not given an opportunity to carry out
    may lead to non-adaptive or displacement
    behaviour. These activities are seemingly
    irrelevant activities that appear when the birds
    have been thwarted in some aspect of their
    behaviour. Examples of this behaviour include
    escape behaviour, preening, redirected pecking
    and various other types of movement. The
    situations that lead to these types of activity
    are believed to produce a level of frustration in
    the birds. This in turn may develop to where
    production efficiency is adversely affected.