Do pairing systems improve welfare of captive Red-Legged partridges (Alectoris rufa) in laying cages?

Poult Sci. 2012 Aug;91(8):1751-8. doi: 10.3382/ps.2011-01677.


Although animal welfare has become an important premise in poultry, little attention has been paid to the effects of present-day rearing methods on the welfare of game birds, species released for hunting and re-establishment purposes. This work studied the effect of pairing methods on the welfare of the Red-Legged partridge kept in laying cages (4,500 cm2), a commonly hunted game species in Western Europe. Agonistic behavior and possible injuries caused by aggression were studied during the pairing and laying period in 2 types of couples: the forced type (n=24), 1 male and 1 female randomly chosen and placed in the same cage, and the free type (n=24), where the female had the opportunity to chose between 4 males, using the time spent by the female near each male as female choice parameter. Welfare of partridges was affected by pairing system, as aggressive behavior, divorces and injuries were observed in a higher rate in forced pairs (25% of pairs did not finish the productive cycle) than in free pairs (16.6%). In addition, more females were attacked in forced pairs, whereas in free pairs, the number of attacked males and mutual aggression was increased. Males tended to display more aggressive behavior than females, pecking mainly on the head and back of females. Although injuries were observed in a minor rate in free pairs, a higher mortality was reported in females compared with males from both free and forced pairs (6 females died in total). The poor welfare in a high percentage of laying pairs hampers the development of sustainable rearing methods for the species. Thus, farmers should consider avoiding forced pairing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Animal Welfare / standards*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Female
  • Galliformes / injuries*
  • Galliformes / physiology*
  • Housing, Animal / standards*
  • Male
  • Oviposition