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


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.


Supported by : National Centre for Research and Development


  1. Uitdehaag KA, Komen H, Rodenburg TB, Kemp B, van Arendonk JAM. The novel object test as predictor of feather damage in cagehoused rhode island red and white Leghorn laying hens. App Anim Bahv Sci 2008;109:292-305.
  2. Boissy A. Fear and fearfulness in animals. Q Rev Biol 1995;70:165-91.
  3. Cockrem JF, Silverin B. Sight of a predator can stimulate a corticosterone response in the great tit (Parus major). Gen Comp Endocrinol 2002;125:248-55.
  4. de Haas EN, Kemp B, Bolhuis JE, Groothuis T, Rodenburg TB. Fear, stress, and feather pecking in commercial white and brown laying hen parent-stock flocks and their relationships with production parameters. Poult Sci 2013;92:2259-69.
  5. Uitdehaag KA, Komen H, Rodenburg TB. Plumage condition, fearfulness and their relation in 4 commercial lines of adult laying hens. World's Poult Sci J 2006;62:597.
  6. Uitdehaag KA, Rodenburg TB, Komen H, Kemp B, van Arendonk JAM. The association of response to a novel object with subsequent performance and feather damage in adult, cage-housed, pure-bred Rhode Island Red laying hens. Poult Sci 2008;87:2486-92.
  7. Rozempolska-Rucinska I, Zieba G, Lukaszewicz M. Hatchability traits as selection criteria in breeding of laying hens. Arch Geflug 2009;73:263-7.
  8. Desire L, Boissy A, Veissier I. Emotions in farm animals: a new approach to animal welfare in applied ethology. Behav Proc 2002;60:165-80.
  9. Tsuruta S, Misztal I. THRGIBBS1F90 for estimation of variance components with threshold and linear models. In: 8th World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production, Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil: 13-18 August, 2006.
  10. Cockrem JF, Silverin B. Variation within and between birds in corticosterone responses of great tits (Parus major). Gen Comp Endocrinol 2002;125:197-206.
  11. Cockrem JF. Conservation and behavioral neuroendocrinology. Horm Behav 2005;48:492-501.
  12. Littin KE, Cockrem JF. Individual variation in corticosterone secretion in laying hens. Br Poult Sci 2001; 42:536-46.
  13. Janczak AM, Torjesen P, Palme R, Bakken M. Effects of stress in hens on the behaviour of their offspring. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2007;107:66-77.
  14. Lindqvist C, Janczak AM, Natt D, et al. Transmission of stress-induced learning impairment and associated brain gene expression from parents to offspring in chickens. PLoS ONE 2007;2:e364.
  15. Marin RH, Satterlee DG, Cadd GG, Jones RB. T-maze behavior and early egg production in Japanese quail selected for contrasting adrenocortical responsiveness. Poult Sci 2002;81:981-6.
  16. Satterlee DG, Marin RH, Jones RB. Selection of Japanese quail for reduced adrenocortical responsiveness accelerates puberty in males. Poult Sci 2002;81:1071-6.
  17. Fraisse F, Cockrem JF. Corticosterone and the measurement of stress and fear in cage housed laying chickens. Br Poult Sci 2006;47:1-10.
  18. Cockrem JF. Stress, corticosterone responses and avian personalities. J Ornithol 2007;148:169-78.
  19. Jones RB. Fear and adaptability in poultry: Insights, implications and imperatives. World's Poult Sci J 1996;52:131-74.
  20. Jones RB, Satterlee DG, Marks HL. Fear-related behaviour in Japanese quail divergently selected for body weight. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1997;52:87-97.
  21. Schütz KE, Kerje S, Jacobsson L, et al. Major growth QTLs in fowl are related to fearful behavior: possible genetic links between fear responses and production traits in a red junglefowl$\times$White Leghorn intercross. Behav Genet 2004;34:121-30.
  22. Buitenhuis AJ, Rodenburg TB, Siwek M, et al. Quantitative trait loci for behavioural traits in chickens. Livest Prod Sci 2005;93:95-103.
  23. Hocking PM, Channing CE, Waddington D, Jones RB. Age-related changes in fear, sociality and pecking behaviours in two strains of laying hen. Br Poult Sci 2001;42:414-23.
  24. Rodenburg TB, Buitenhuis AJ, Ask B, et al. Genetic and phenotypic correlations between feather pecking and open-field response in laying hens at two different ages. Behav Gen 2004;34:407-15.
  25. Forkman B, Boissy A, Meunier-Salaun MC, Canali E, Jones RB. A critical review of fear tests used on cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry and horses. Physiol Behav 2007;92:340-74.
  26. Reale D, Reader SM, Sol D, McDougall PT, Dingemanse NJ. Integrating animal temperament within ecology and evolution. Biol Rev 2007;82:291-318.
  27. Carere C, Eens M. Unravelling animal personalities: how and why individuals consistently differ. Behaviour 2005;142:1149-57.
  28. Freire R, van Dort S, Rogers LJ. Pre- and post-hatching effects of corticosterone treatment on behavior of the domestic chick. Horm Behav 2006;49:157-65.
  29. Janczak AM, Braastad BO, Bakken M. Behavioural effects of embryonic exposure to corticosterone in chickens. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2006;96:69-82.

Cited by

  1. Analysis of Behavioural Profile of Hens with the Use of Computer Software vol.20, pp.3, 2018,