Effects of maternal care during rearing in white leghorn and brown nick layer hens on cognition, sociality and fear

Susie E. Hewlett, Rebecca E. Nordquist*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)
    30 Downloads (Pure)


    Both genetic background and maternal care can have a strong influence on cognitive and emotional development. To investigate these effects and their possible interaction, White Leghorn (LH) and Brown Nick (BN) chicks, two hybrid lines of layer hen commonly used commercially, were housed either with or without a mother hen in their first five weeks of life. From three weeks of age, the chicks were tested in a series of experiments to deduce the effects of breed and maternal care on their fear response, foraging and social motivation, and cognitive abilities. The LH were found to explore more and showed more attempts to reinstate social contact than BN. The BN were less active in all tests and less motivated than LH by social contact or by foraging opportunity. No hybrid differences were found in cognitive performance in the holeboard task. In general, the presence of a mother hen had unexpectedly little effect on behavior in both LH and BN chicks. It is hypothesized that hens from commercially used genetic backgrounds may have been inadvertently selected to be less responsive to maternal care than ancestral or non-commercial breeds. The consistent and strong behavioral differences between genetic strains highlights the importance of breed-specific welfare management processes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number454
    Pages (from-to)1-17
    Number of pages17
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • maternal care
    • gallus gallus
    • hen
    • spatial memory
    • fear
    • behavior
    • sociality
    • chicken


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