The way young chickens play can indicate how they feel

It is common for young animals, especially mammals, to play. Researchers from Linköping University (LiU), Sweden, have for the first time mapped the development of play in young chickens. The results show that young chickens spend a lot of time playing in different ways, just like puppies and kittens.

“We studied the development of young chickens from the moment they hatch, by offering them a special ‘playground’ several times a week”, explains For every Jensen, professor in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology at LiU. Professor Jensen conducted the investigation.

The researchers filmed the behavior of the young chickens and identified, in full, 14 varieties of different games. For example, young chickens picked up objects in their beaks and chased each other, or engaged in “play fights” by jumping up and bumping their chests against each other. The intensity of play peaks around 6-7 weeks of age, just before young chickens become independent of their mom and dad in character.

To see how game is affected in the changeover from living in the wild to being tamed, modern, domesticated young laying chickens were compared to their ancestors, the red waterfowl.

“We discovered that both played exactly the same way. Thus, nearly 000 years of domestication had not changed their playing behavior. However, young tamed chickens played much more than their ancestors. This supports the theory that domestication often leads to animals. become more ‘childlike’ in their behavior,” says Rebecca Oscarsson, who worked on the study during her master’s program.

In many animals, play is affected by their mental state, and animals play less when they feel anxious or uncomfortable. Therefore, another study looked at young chickens under stress during hatching.

“The hypothesis was that experiencing early stress would make the young chickens less likely to play. But instead, we saw quite the opposite. Perhaps stressed animals have an unmet need for an outlet for positive behavior. show that,” says Gabrielle Lundén, who was also a master’s student during the experiment.

For each Jensen believes that the way animals play can indicate how they feel and that play is used to improve their lives.

“We are planning a study in which we will stimulate stressed animals to play, in order to increase their well-being. This could be a way to improve the quality of life of animals used in food production”, says For each Jensen.

The study received funding from the research council Formas and the Swedish Research Council.

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