Domesticated hens not friendly, says RVC research

A study from the RVC has found that groups of domesticated hens do not form friendships in modern commercial conditions, even when in small groups.

Hens reared in commercial conditions do not form friendships and are not particular about which fellow hens they spend time with, according to results of a new study from the Royal Veterinary College.

Research from the RVC has demonstrated that domesticated hens, unlike humans, do not form friendships.Academics from the college examined the movements of eight identical groups of 15 laying hens over a period of eight weeks to discover whether pairs of birds were found together more often then expected at both active and roosting times.

The BBSRC-funded experiment was carried out to discover if the welfare of chickens could be improved by taking advantage of ‘friendships’.

Siobhan Abeyesinghe, a lecturer in animal welfare and behaviour at the college and one of the authors of the report, said: "This is not so odd a question you might think. In humans and other species, friendships have been shown to enrich life positively, buffer against stressful experiences and even improve reproductive success."

However, Dr Abeyesinghe said the experiment found "no evidence" to suggest that hens in modern commercial conditions form such friendships, even when housed in small groups where it is possible to know every other bird.

"This suggests that, at present, fostering of friendships cannot be used as a way to improve the welfare of chickens," she said.

According to the RVC, the results of the experiment - published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science - mean more research is required to determine whether this apparent lack of ‘BFFs’ is true of the chicken’s ancestor, the Red Junglefowl, or whether early social experiences of domesticated hens affect their friendships in later life.

To view the entire article, visit the Applied Animal Behaviour Science website.

Image © istockphoto.com/mophojo
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