Adamson, T. W., Perez, M.C. 2014. Use of cuttlebones to reduce the incidence of feather pecking in chickens. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science [AALAS] Meeting Official Program, 540 (Abstract #PS56).
Feather pecking is a maladaptive behavior where chickens (and other poultry species) peck the feathers of conspecifics and damage the plumage and frequently the skin. It is one of the most common behavioral problems in chickens today and can lead to considerable welfare concerns. Numerous preventative measures have been discussed, with none eliminating or alleviating the problem to a significant degree. Here we present data suggesting that the addition of cuttlebones to the cage at an early age can potentially reduce or eliminate this behavior in laboratory housed chickens. Four groups of day-old chicks were received into our facility over a period of approximately 1 y. The first 3 groups experienced an incidence of feather pecking of 2.6 % (n = 38), 15.4 % (n = 26), and 55.6 % (n = 45). At this point the decision was made to add cuttlebones to the cages 5 to 7 d after their arrival. The incidence of feather pecking dropped to zero percent (group 4, n = 35) after cuttlebones were introduced. While cuttlebones have been used as a source of calcium for pet birds, to our knowledge this is the first time they have been reported as enrichment in a laboratory setting to alter pecking behavior in chickens. Cuttlebones will be given to subsequent groups of incoming chickens to gather additional data and verify or disprove these findings. Further testing should also be done to see if this nonexperimental variable alters the chicken?s physiology in a way that might affect data and results.