Early-life microbiota transplantation affects behavioural responses in feather pecking selection lines

Y. van de Weetering, J.A.J. van der Eijk, Aart Lammers, Bas Rodenburg

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


    Feather pecking (FP) is a major welfare and economic problem in the laying hen industry, as it can cause feather damage and could lead to injuries or even mortality of victims. FP is multifactorial and has been related to behaviours such as fearfulness. Gut microbiota might contribute to FP, as it influences behaviours in rodent models that have been linked to FP such as anxiety. Moreover, recent studies have found that high and low FP lines differ in their cecal microbial metabolites and composition. However, it is unknown whether a causal link between the gut microbiota and FP exists. Therefore, we orally administered adult microbiota to newly hatched chicks (daily, day 0-14 of age). We used genetic lines selected for high (HFP, n = 288) and low (LFP, n = 288) FP. The microbiota transplants were collected from pooled gut content of 30 week old HFP and LFP donor birds. Each line received either HFP microbiota, LFP microbiota or control treatment. FP behaviour was observed via direct observations on pen-level between 0-5, 8-10 and 13-15 weeks of age. Furthermore, birds were tested in two behavioural tests; the Novel Object (NO) test at 3 days and 5 weeks of age and the Open Field (OF) test at 13 weeks of age. Although we did not find an effect of line*treatment interactions or treatment on FP, we did observe that birds treated with LFP microbiota stepped sooner (P < 0.01) and more and vocalized sooner compared to the control treated birds during the OF test (P < 0.05). Additionally, they stepped sooner during the OF, yet took longer to approach the NO compared to HFP microbiota groups (P < 0.05). Therefore, we conclude that early-life microbiota treatment affects behavioural responses, which might be related to fearfulness, social motivation or coping style.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2018


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