Taylor, P. S., Hemsworth, P. H., Rault, J.-L. 2022. Environmental complexity: Additional human visual contact reduced meat chickens’ fear of humans and physical items altered pecking behavior. Animals 12(3), 310.
Increased environmental complexity can improve animal welfare, depending on the resources provided and use by the animal. We provided chickens either with physical items that posed no biosecurity risk and were inexpensive (balls, chains, perches and rope) (P; n = 36) or additional visual human contact (10 min daily) (HC; n = 36) compared to farm-like standard control groups (C; n = 36) with 3 pens per treatment. Additional human contact reduced fear of humans at 35 days of age, but not general fearfulness. P birds required more inductions to induce tonic immobility compared to HC and C birds at 21 days of age. However, other indicators of fear (open field test and plasma corticosterone concentration) did not significantly differ. P birds favored the woodblock for resting, and the perch but preferred to sit underneath the perch rather than on top. When pecking items were not provided, C and HC chickens redirected their pecking behavior toward the litter. Overall, there was little evidence that our physical items improved the chickens’ behavioral time budget, fear, physiological stress or production. Additional human contact should be investigated in large scale experiments to ensure its effectiveness to reduce fear of humans on farm.