Effects of dietary dilution source and dilution level on feather damage, performance, behavior, and litter condition in pullets

Poult Sci. 2013 Mar;92(3):591-602. doi: 10.3382/ps.2012-02378.


An experiment was conducted to investigate the effects of dietary dilution sources and levels on feather damage, performance, feeding behavior, and litter condition in rearing pullets. It was hypothesized that dietary dilution increases feeding-related behavior and improves feather condition, particularly if insoluble nonstarch polysaccharides are used as the dilution source. In total, 864 Lohmann Brown 1-d-old non-beak-trimmed pullets were used until 18 wk of age. Four dietary treatments, a control diet without any dilution (R_0%), 7.5% diluted diet with sunflower seed extract/oat hulls (R_7.5%), 15% diluted diet with sunflower seed extract (R_15%_S), and 15% diluted diet with oat hulls (R_15%_O), with 6 replicates (1 replicate is a pen with 36 pullets) per treatment were used. On 4-wk intervals, behavioral parameters, including eating time, feather pecking, feather condition, and general behavior were evaluated. Pullets fed the control diet showed increased feather, comb, and wire pecking compared with pullets fed diluted diets. The level of feather damage decreased with increasing dietary dilution level. Pullets receiving R_15%_S and R_15%_O showed more feeding-related behavior than the pullets on R_7.5% and R_0%. Oat hulls were more effective in preventing feather damage than sunflower seed extract. Pullets did not fully compensate their feed intake if fed a dietary dilution, resulting in a proportionally reduced available ME intake. The R_15%_O pullets had 2.9% lower average BW gain compared with those fed R_0%. Average eating duration increased by 12.8, 33.2, and 42.1% in R_7.5%, R_15%_S, and R_15%_O fed pullets, respectively, compared with R_0%, whereas eating rate [feed intake (g)/pullet per eating min] was decreased in R_15%_S and R_15%_O pullets. Relative weights of empty gizzards were 3.95, 10.30, and 62.72% greater in R_7.5%, R_15%_S, and R_15%_O pullets compared with pullets fed R_0%. It was concluded that dietary dilution affected time budgets of the pullets, as shown by more feeding-related behavior, resulting in less feather pecking behavior. Based on our results, application of this feeding strategy could improve production and welfare in pullets.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed / analysis*
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Diet / veterinary*
  • Eating*
  • Feathers*
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Female
  • Floors and Floorcoverings
  • Weight Gain