Environmental Complexity and Reduced Stocking Density Promote Positive Behavioral Outcomes in Broiler Chickens

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2023-06-23
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MDPI
Abstract

The objective was to evaluate the impacts of a complex environment and stocking density on Ross 708 broiler chicken behaviors. Eight pens contained either high complexity (HC) or low complexity (LC) environments, and high (HD) or low (LD) density. Through focal-animal sampling, the frequency and duration of behaviors were recorded continuously for 5 min at two timepoints for one day in weeks 2, 4, and 7. Birds were active for 30% of the observed time, with birds showing more activity in HC compared with LC. Birds in HC pens spent more time preening and foraging than birds in LC pens, which was interpreted as a positive outcome. Dustbathing and play were not impacted by complexity, possibly due to the observation method. Birds were more frequently active at HD compared with LD, but did not spend more time being active, suggesting disturbances. Birds foraged, drank, and ate less frequently in HD compared with LD, presumably because birds had more difficulty accessing resources. Activity and active behaviors reduced as birds aged, while preening frequency increased, possibly due to frustration, but this was not confirmed. Perching was unaffected by age, showing a persistent motivation to perform the behavior. Our results indicate that a complex environment provides positive stimulation for foraging, locomotion, preening, and overall activity. Despite reduced activity, many benefits of the tested environmental complexity and low density persisted as birds aged.

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Evans, L.; Brooks, G.C.; Anderson, M.G.; Campbell, A.M.; Jacobs, L. Environmental Complexity and Reduced Stocking Density Promote Positive Behavioral Outcomes in Broiler Chickens. Animals 2023, 13, 2074.