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Measuring Motivation for Appetitive Behaviour: Food-Restricted Broiler Breeder Chickens Cross a Water Barrier to Forage in an Area of Wood Shavings without Food

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Broiler breeders (parents of meat chickens) are selected for fast growth and become obese if fed ad libitum. To avoid this and maintain good health and reproductive ability, they are feed restricted to about 1/3 of what they would eat ad libitum. As a result, they experience chronic hunger and exhibit abnormal behaviour patterns that may indicate stress and frustration. One approach to measuring hunger is to observe how much birds will work, such as pecking a key, for access to more or different types of food. However, the sight, smell, and feedback from consumption of the feed reward changes the context and may artificially raise feeding motivation. To avoid this, we tested broiler breeders in an apparatus in which they could work for access to a wooden platform covered in wood shavings by crossing a water runway which increased in length and depth in 8 successive tests. In the wood shavings area, they could perform exploratory and foraging behaviour (the appetitive phase of feeding) but were never rewarded with feed. Sixty birds were divided into three feed quantity treatments: commercial restriction (R), and twice (2R) or three times (3R) this amount. Overall, birds fed R worked harder to reach the wood shavings area (reached it in a larger number of tests) than 2R and 3R birds (P<0.001). More restricted birds took less time to reach the area (P<0.001, R<2R<3R) and spent more time foraging while there (P<0.001, R<2R<3R). This indicates that restricted-fed birds were hungry and willing to work for the opportunity to forage even though food was never provided, suggesting that their motivation to perform the appetitive component of feeding behaviour (foraging/food searching) was sufficient to sustain their response. Thus food restriction in broiler breeders is a welfare concern. However these methods could be used to test alternative feeding regimes to attempt to find ways of alleviating hunger while still maintaining healthy growth and reproduction in these birds.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dixon LM, Brocklehurst S, Sandilands V, Bateson M, Tolkamp BJ, D'Eath RB

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS ONE

Year: 2014

Volume: 9

Issue: 7

Online publication date: 28/07/2014

Acceptance date: 18/07/2014

Date deposited: 01/10/2014

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102322


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Funder referenceFunder name
AW1141UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra)