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RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Close human presence reduces avoidance behaviour in commercial caged laying hens to an approaching human

L. E. Edwards A C D E , G. J. Coleman B and P. H. Hemsworth A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Animal Welfare Science Centre, The Melbourne School of Land and Environment, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3010, Australia.

B Animal Welfare Science Centre, School of Psychology and Psychiatry, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3800, Australia.

C Past student of the former Australian Poultry Cooperative Research Centre, PO Box U242, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

D Present address: Animal Welfare and Biodiversity Research Group, Department of Natural Sciences, Unitec Institute of Technology, Carrington Road, Mt Albert, Private Bag 92025, Auckland Mail Centre, Auckland 1142, New Zealand.

E Corresponding author. Email: ledwards@unitec.ac.nz

Animal Production Science 53(12) 1276-1282 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN12342
Submitted: 28 September 2012  Accepted: 16 February 2013   Published: 21 May 2013

Abstract

The quality of human contact that hens are exposed to will determine the degree of fear of humans that they experience. This has consequences for the welfare of commercial laying hens, as hens that are afraid of humans will be regularly exposed to a fear-provoking stressor. Hens can be habituated to human presence using positive or neutral human–animal interactions, although the specific human behaviours that are considered positive or neutral by the hens are still being determined. This experiment investigated whether the proximity or duration of visual contact with a human affected fear of humans in commercial caged laying hens (n = 216). Commercial laying hens were exposed to daily visual human contact at one of three proximities (0, 0.75 or 1.50 m) and one of three durations (2, 30 or 90 s) in a 3 by 3 factorial design for a period of 28 days. Avoidance behaviour was assessed on Days –5, 15 and 30, and the plasma corticosterone response to handling was assessed on Days –5 and Day 30. Visual contact with a stationary human at close proximity (0 m) significantly (P = 0.03) reduced the avoidance response of commercial laying hens to an approaching human, although there was no clear effect of proximity on corticosterone response to handling. The duration of human contact had no effect on avoidance behaviour or corticosterone response. Stockpeople may consider working more closely to the cages in a non-threatening manner to reduce fear of humans in their flock.

Additional keywords: corticosterone, egg farm, human–animal relationship, welfare.


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