Chickens with different personalities use the range differently

– by Vitor Hugo Bessa Ferreira and Vanessa Guesdon (JUNIA)


In the third PPILOW newsletter, we mentioned our on-going experiments (a collaboration between JUNIA and INRAE) on the inter-individual behavioural differences of free-range broiler chickens and how these differences were linked to range use. Our previous results showed that, despite being raised in the same flock and under the same conditions, some chickens tended to be more exploratory (more foraging behaviour) and were more likely to make efforts to obtain their food during a standardized test (i.e., contra freeloading), while others were less exploratory and preferred to obtain their food from more accessible and easier sources.  More interestingly, these individual characteristics could be seen early in the chick’s life and were positively correlated to range use (Ferreira et al., 2021), which encouraged us to carry out further experiments to improve our understanding of the relationship between individual exploratory behaviour (a possible axis of the animal personality) and range use.

In our most recent publication, on the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, we followed the behaviour of free-range broiler chickens throughout their whole lives, from an early age, before range access, until the last weeks of life, before slaughter. During this time, we observed behaviours both in home environment (barn, range), and in individual tests (measuring exploration and social motivation). Our results showed that chick foraging in the barn may be a useful predictor of range use along different rearing periods (before range access, first weeks of range access, and last weeks of range access) and seasons (spring and fall). Also, foraging was the only behaviour to show within-individual consistency from an early age and across different rearing periods. Combined, these results indicate that chickens’ foraging behaviours and range use could be part of an exploratory personality axis. In short, chickens with different personalities use the range differently. If responsive to environmental influences, foraging behavior should thus be promoted to maximize the use of the range by chickens in free-range systems (Ferreira et al., 2022).

Ferreira, V. H. B., Simoni, A., Germain, K., Leterrier, C., Lansade, L., Collin, A., et al. (2021). Working for food is related to range use in free-range broiler chickens. Sci. Rep. 11, 6253. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-85867-2.

Ferreira, V. H. B., Simoni, A., Germain, K., Leterrier, C., Lansade, L., Collin, A., et al. (2022). Foraging Behavior Shows Individual-Consistency Over Time, and Predicts Range Use in Slow-Growing Free-Range Male Broiler Chickens. Front. Vet. Sci. 9, 1–12. doi:10.3389/fvets.2022.814054.