Feather pecking in chickens is genetically related to behavioural and developmental traits
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Feather pecking (FP) is a detrimental behaviour in chickens, which is performed by only some individuals in a flock. FP was studied in 54 red junglefowl (ancestor of domestic chickens), 36 White Leghorn laying hens, and 762 birds from an F(2)-intercross between these two lines. From all F(2)-birds, growth and feed consumption were measured. Age at sexual maturity and egg production in females, and corticosterone levels in males were also measured. From 333 F(2)-birds of both sexes, and 20 parental birds, body composition with respect to bone mineral content, muscle and fat was obtained by post-mortem examinations using Dual X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA). In femurs of the same birds, the bone density and structure were analysed using DXA and Peripheral Quantitative Computerized Tomography (pQCT), and a biomechanical analysis of bone strength was performed. Furthermore, plumage condition was determined in all birds as a measure of being exposed to feather pecking. Using 105 DNA-markers in all F(2)-birds, a genome-wide scan for Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL), associated with the behaviour in the F(2)-generation was performed. FP was at least as frequent in the red junglefowl as in the White Leghorn strain studied here, and significantly more common among females both in the parental strains and in the F(2)-generation. In the F(2)-birds, FP was phenotypically linked to early sexual maturation, fast growth, weak bones, and, in males, also high fat accumulation, indicating that feather peckers have a different resource allocation pattern. Behaviourally, F(2) feather peckers were more active in an open field test, in a novel food/novel object test, and in a restraint test, indicating that feather pecking might be genetically linked to a proactive coping strategy. Only one suggestive QTL with a low explanatory value was found on chromosome 3, showing that many genes, each with a small effect, are probably involved in the causation of feather pecking. There were significant effects of sire and dam on the risk of being a victim of feather pecking, and victims grew faster pre- and post-hatching, had lower corticosterone levels and were less active in a restraint test. Hence, a wide array of behavioural and developmental traits were genetically linked to FP.
author list (cited authors)
Jensen, P., Keeling, L., Schütz, K., Andersson, L., Mormède, P., Brändström, H., ... Kindmark, A.