+49 30 838 52256
Feather pecking in laying hens is a serious behavioral problem and is often associated with feather eating. There is some evidence that ingested feathers affect gut function. The aim of the present study was to explore whether differences in intestinal microbial metabolites in laying hens with high and low levels of repetitive feather-pecking behavior exist. Sixty high feather-pecking birds (H) and sixty low feather-pecking birds (L) of the White Leghorn breed were used for behavioral recordings of feather pecking. Feather pecking activity was observed for 5 weeks, after which 22 H birds with the highest and 22 L birds with the lowest feather pecking activity were chosen. The number of whole feathers and feather parts in the gizzard and intestinal microbial metabolites in the ileum and ceca of these laying hens was examined. Biogenic amines, short-chain fatty acids, ammonia and lactate were measured as microbial metabolites. A higher number of feather parts and particles were found in H than in L birds. Putrescine and cadaverine concentrations were higher in the ileum of the hens with low pecking activity (P<0.001 and P=0.012). In the cecum the amounts of l-lactate, d-lactate and total lactate and SCFA were higher in H birds (P=0.007, P=0.005, P=0.006, and P<0.001). Acetate, i-butyrate, i-valeriate and n-valeriate all displayed significantly higher molar ratios in the cecal contents of L birds (P=0.001, P=0.003, P=0.001, and P<0.001). Propionate and n-butyrate showed higher molar ratios in H birds (P<0.001 and P=0.034). Ammonia was higher in the ileum and cecum of the L birds (P<0.001 and P=0.004). For the first time, this study shows that birds with high and low numbers of repetitive pecking movements to the plumage of other birds differ in their intestinal microbial metabolism. Further experiments should be conducted to investigate whether these differences alter behavior in H and L feather pecking birds. The present results, however, open new avenues of research into implications of gut bacteria, their metabolites and the polyamine system on brain and behavior in laying hens.