Relationships between beak condition, preening behavior and ectoparasite infestation levels in laying hens

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2015
Authors:G. Vezzoli, Mullens, B. A., Mench, J. A.
Journal:Poultry Science
Pagination:1997 - 2007
Date Published:09-2015
Keywords:beak-trimming, hen, lice, mites, preening

The effects of beak condition on ectoparasite populations and preening in laying hens were investigated. Beak-trimmed and beak-intact caged Hy-Line W-36 hens were infested with either chicken body lice or northern fowl mites using a 2 × 2 factorial design with 4 replicate cages (each containing 2 hens)/treatment: 1) BTL (beak-trimmed lice-infested); 2) BTM (beak-trimmed mite-infested); 3) BIL (beak-intact lice-infested); and 4) BIM (beak-intact mite-infested). Mite scores and lice numbers were estimated weekly. Hens were video recorded the wk before infestation and at wk 6 and 9 post-infestation. Time spent preening on 6 body areas and in total were analyzed using a repeated measures ANOVA. There was a wk × beak condition interaction for lice loads, with BTL harboring approximately 17 times more lice than BIL from wk 7 to 10 post-infestation (P < 0.0001). Beak condition affected mite loads (P < 0.0001), with BTM having a higher mite score (3.8 ± 0.26) than BIM (1.4 ± 0.26). At peak infestation, BTL spent more total time preening (P = 0.02, s ± SE: 232.1 ± 37.6) than prior to infestation (33.9 ± 37.6) and directed their preening behavior towards the vent. In contrast, BIL (73.9 ± 37.6), BTM (9.4 ± 1.6), and BIM (8.6 ± 1.6) did not increase total time spent preening over pre-infestation levels (103.6 ± 37.6, 5.8 ± 1.6, 6.7 ± 1.6 respectively), although BTM did redirect their preening behavior toward the vent. This study confirmed previous studies showing that an intact beak is important for reducing ectoparasite infestations. Preening behavior increased in response to lice infestation, but only in beak-trimmed hens; preening behavior and louse load were correlated at peak infestation. In contrast, mite infestation did not lead to increased preening, and there was no correlation between preening and mite load. However, both lice- and mite-infested hens directed preening behavior predominantly towards the vent where these parasites are typically found.

Short Title:Poultry Science
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