A Royal Veterinary College study has found that hens reared in commercial conditions do not form friendships and are not particular about who they spend time with.
The research published by Applied Animal Behaviour Science and funded by BBSRC, was carried out to discover if the welfare of chickens could be improved by taking advantage of ‘friendships’.
“We investigated the possibility that domesticated egg-laying hens form distinct ‘friendships’ by examining whether or not individual chickens were particular about who they spent most time with,”said Dr Siobhan Abeyesinghe, from the Royal Veterinary College. “This is not so odd a question as you might think: in humans and other species, friendships have been shown to enrich life positively, buffer against stressful experiences and even improve reproductive success.”
The movements of eight identical groups of 15 laying hens were monitored over eight weeks, examining whether pairs of birds were found together more often then expected by chance when they were active and when roosting at night.
“We found no evidence to suggest that modern hens reared in commercial conditions form such friendships, even when they are housed in small groups where it is possible to know every other bird,” said Abeyesinghe. “This suggests that, at present, fostering of friendships cannot be used as a way to improve the welfare of chicken.”
More research is now required to determine whether this apparent lack of ‘BFFs’ is true of the chicken’s ancestor, the Red Junglefowl, or whether the early social experiences of domesticated hens affect their formation of specific friendships in later life.