Natural incubation patterns and the effects of exposing eggs to light at various times during incubation on post-hatch fear and stress responses in broiler (meat) chickens
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Although environmental conditions during incubation can affect poultry welfare, one factor often overlooked in the commercial incubation of eggs is light. Light stimulation during embryonic development is now known to affect the physiology and behavior of broiler (meat) chickens post-hatch, but little is known about the pattern of exposure needed to produce these effects. We determined how often naturally incubated eggs were exposed to light by giving 10 broody Junglefowl. . New Hampshire Red hens a nestbox containing five fertile eggs and a light sensitive data logger which recorded nest attendance by determining whether light was reaching the eggs. On average hens stayed on the nest without leaving for 14.3 of the days of the 21-day incubation cycle, although they did leave periodically, particularly during the last week. Utilizing this information, we then investigated how the timing of light exposure during incubation affected fear and stress responsiveness post-hatch in broiler chickens. Eggs were either not exposed to light (0DL), or exposed to light throughout incubation (21DL) or during only either the last 2 weeks (14DL) or the last week (7DL) of incubation. Lighting pattern had a significant effect on all parameters measured, with the most consistent differences found between 0DL and 21DL. For the fear measures, the 0DL birds had a longer latency to emerge during an emergence test (62.7 versus 37.2. s), a longer latency to right during a tonic immobility test (223.8 versus 107.2. s), wing-flapped more intensely during an inversion test (7.03 versus 6.4 flaps/s), and vocalized more during an isolation test (172.7 versus 127.1/3. min) than the 21DL. For the stress measures, 0DL had a lower IgG titer (52,683 versus 97,375 units) and greater corticosterone response (1.18 versus 0.55. ng/mL) to the crating stressor than 21DL, and showed more composite asymmetry (1.96 versus 1.49. mm). The 14DL and 7DL groups were generally intermediate. Unlike dark-incubated chicks, all light-stimulated groups showed lateralization of escape direction during the emergence test, suggesting that light-induced cerebral laterality could play a role in the observed effects. However, the direction of lateralization differed depending upon timing of exposure. These results confirm the importance of light stimulation during incubation on the later behavior and physiology of broiler chickens, but also indicate that providing light only during the last week of incubation, which would coincide with the maximum light stimulation provided by hens' excursions from the nest, is insufficient to produce these effects. 2014 Elsevier B.V.