Stress response and habituation as influenced by nutritional and thermal factors in dwarf and normal chickens

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Virginia Tech


Experiments were conducted to explore physiological, pathological, and immunological aspects of stress in chickens. Mechanisms of habituation and their association with adrenal steroids were also studied.

Degree of stress experienced during perinatal and neonatal stages was evaluated. In both stages, heterophilia and lymphopenia were noted and post-hatching heterophil to lymphocyte (H/L) ratios declined in a quadratic manner with age.

Feed restriction elicited a similar stress response, as indicated by H/L ratios in dwarfs and normals with the effect of adapting to fasting having dissipated between 12 to 16 days. Resistance to Eimeria tenella infection was greater in normals than dwarfs, and for fasted than ad libitum fed chicks. Neither genotype nor feeding regimen had an effect on antibody response to SRBC.

Frustration induced by thwarting of feeding resulted in a dramatic elevation in HIL ratios and conspicuous behavioral responses, suggesting responses to fasting may be physiologically and psychologically modulated. Provision of sand during feed withdrawal attenuated physiological responses, possibly via alteration of psychogenic components.

An experiment was designed to evaluate the impact of mild feed restriction at several ages on heat tolerance. Normal chicks feed-deprived during the neonatal stage had lower H/L ratios, improved resistance to marble spleen disease and growth during heat treatment than those fed ad libitum or fasted at older ages. A companion experiment examined habituation and concomitantly the role of glucocorticoids in stress response. Neonatal fasting-induced stress responses without concurrent increases in adrenal steroidogenesis did not enhance ability of normal chicks to withstand high ambient temperatures.

The hypothesis regarding modulatory roles of corticosteroids in neonatally-elicited adaptation was affirmed in a subsequent study. Feed withdrawal for 8 or 24 h at 36 days of age did not induce either H/L or plasma corticosterone response of chicks stressed early in life. In contrast, neither criterion provided evidence for adaptation to feed deprivation by neonates treated with an adrenal steroidogenesis blocker during the fast. corticosterone mediated inhibitory feedback regulation of the hypothalamic - pituitary - adrenal axis which down-regulates ACTH response was also evident.