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Genetic correlations between behavioural responses and performance traits in laying hens

  • Rozempolska-Rucinska, Iwona (Department of Biological Basis of Animal Production, University of Life Sciences in Lublin) ;
  • Zieba, Grzegorz (Department of Biological Basis of Animal Production, University of Life Sciences in Lublin) ;
  • Kibala, Lucyna (Centre for Nucleus Breeding "MESSA" Ltd.) ;
  • Prochniak, Tomasz (Department of Biological Basis of Animal Production, University of Life Sciences in Lublin) ;
  • Lukaszewicz, Marek (Institute of Genetics and Animal Breeding)
  • Received : 2016.06.07
  • Accepted : 2017.02.04
  • Published : 2017.12.01

Abstract

Objective: The aim of the study was to evaluate genetic correlations between the behavioural profile and performance in laying hens as an indirect answer to the question whether the observed behavioural responses are associated with increased levels of stress in these birds. Methods: The assessment of birds' temperament was carried out using the novel objects test. The behavioural test was conducted in two successive generations comprising 9,483 Rhode Island White (RIW) birds (approx. 4,700 individuals per generation) and 4,326 Rhode Island Red (RIR) birds (approx. 2,100 individuals per generation). Based on the recorded responses, the birds were divided into two groups: a fearful profile (1,418 RIW hens and 580 RIR hens) and a brave/curious profile (8,065 RIW hens and 3,746 RIR hens). The birds were subjected to standard assessment of their performance traits, including SM, age at sexual maturity; ST, shell thickness; SG, egg specific gravity; EW, mean egg weight; IP, initial egg production; and HC, number of hatched chicks. The pedigree was three generations deep (including two behaviourrecorded generations). Estimation of the (co)variance components was performed with the Gibbs sampling method, which accounts for the discrete character of the behavioural profile denotation. Results: The analyses revealed negative correlations between the performance traits of the laying hens and the behavioural profile defined as fearful. In the group of fearful RIW birds, delayed sexual maturation (0.22) as well as a decrease in the initial egg production (-0.30), egg weight (-0.54), egg specific gravity (-0.331), shell thickness (-0.11), and the number of hatched chicks (-0.24) could be expected. These correlations were less pronounced in the RIR breed, in which the fearful birds exhibited a decline in hatchability (-0.37), egg specific gravity (-0.11), and the number of hatched chicks (-0.18). There were no correlations in the case of the other traits or they were positive but exhibited a substantial standard error, as for the egg weight. Conclusion: To sum up the results obtained, it can be noted that behavioural responses indicating fearfulness, i.e. escape, avoidance, and approach-avoidance may reflect negative emotions experienced by birds. The negative correlations with performance in the group of fearful hens may indirectly indicate a high level of stress in these birds, especially in the white-feathered birds, where stronger performance-fearfulness correlations were found. Fearful birds should be eliminated from breeding by inclusion of the behavioural profile in the selection criterion in the case of laying hens.

Keywords

Laying Hens;Behaviour;Performance;Genetic Correlations

Acknowledgement

Supported by : National Centre for Research and Development

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