Using vocalisations to modify chicken behaviour
University of New England
Project code: PRJ-012188
Project stage: Closed
Project start date: Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Project completion date: Monday, May 29, 2023
National Priority: CME-Priority 2-Enhancing chicken biosecurity, health, and welfare
Hen vocalisations have a crucial role in directing their chicks’ behaviour (Edgar et al., 2015; 2016), and the presence of a hen can have long-term benefits (Mench and Keeling, 2011; Perre et al., 2002; Campo et al., 2014). While hen rearing is not commercially viable, replicating hen presence through vocalisation playback show great potential to be a practical method to improve chick well-being, productivity and management.
This project will investigate the impact of feeding and roosting vocalisation playbacks on the feeding and ranging behaviour of chicks, respectively. Furthermore, this project will assess the implications of such behavioural modifications on production, and investigate three novel indicators of meat chicken well-being; reflective of positive affect (mesotocin and brain derived neurotropic factor) and negative affect (eye temperature). The first set of experiments at UNE will identify the most effective vocalisation playback features and the most relevant set of measures to be studied on-farm.
The second experiment on two Australian free-range commercial farms will test the vocalisation playback intervention on meat chicken production, behaviour and welfare in commercial flocks. This will ultimately ensure the delivery of effective and practical methods ready for use by industry.
This research is both innovative and practical, with the potential for cost-effective interventions that enhance meat chicken welfare, management and productivity. This project was approved in 2017, however we have been advised to return the plan to the committee following an expansion of the project scope and a change in personnel.
University of New England
This project will artificially simulate auditory features of brooding, in the form of hen roosting and feeding vocalisations, to deliver practical and cost-effective methods to enhance welfare, production and management.
Specifically this project aims to
- Elucidate the effectiveness of hen vocalisation playback to influence the behaviour of meat chickens.
- Implement hen vocalisation playback on farm to study its effect on meat chicken behaviour, welfare and production under commercial conditions.
- Identify the potential to use infra-red camera measurement of surface eye temperature (indicators of the acute stress response), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (indicator of brain development, learning and stress resilience) and mesotocin (indicator of positive social behaviour and positive welfare states) in blood as novel objective welfare indicators.
This project will focus on feeding and roosting calls. Feeding calls are short, high frequency repetitive sounds that attract chicks to food, facilitating the acquisition of foraging skills (Stokes, 1971; Sherry, 1977; Collias, 1987). Roosting calls are long, low-frequency, purring sounds which attract chicks to rest underneath the hen, usually given by hens just before night time. Demonstrating the effectiveness of these calls to positively modify chick behaviour on commercial farms will provide proof of concept to further investigate practical applications of vocalisation playback to increase productivity and alleviate problem behaviour of other commercial poultry, e.g. floor eggs or feather pecking in laying hens.