Tel.+49 30 838 52256 Fax.+49 30 838-55938
Previous work demonstrated an association between feather pecking and feather eating in laying hens. This raised the question if digestive feedback affects feather eating or feather pecking in laying hens. We hypothesized that feathers enriched with sugar form a positive feedback and feathers enriched with quinine sulfate form a negative feedback. Forty-eight laying hens were kept in individual cages and fed a pelleted diet ad libitum. Twenty-four birds were offered feathers on a daily basis; 12 of these birds were offered feathers soaked in 4% quinine sulfate solution (Q), and the other 12 were offered feathers soaked in 4% sucrose solution (S). The other 24 birds were kept as a control (C) without access to feathers. After a 10-d feather feeding period, 3 groups of 4 S and 4 C birds each and 3 groups of 4 Q and 4 C birds each were assembled. Feather-pecking behavior was recorded over a period of 8 d. The number of Q feathers eaten was significantly lower than the number of S feathers. Birds that were offered Q feathers in the feather feeding phase showed significantly less severe feather pecking than S and C birds. The results clearly show that Q as an unpalatable substance was the signal the animal used to avoid damaging the feather cover in laying hens.