Studies on farm animals have shown relationships between stockperson attitudes and behaviour and farm animal fear, stress and productivity. This study investigated how the avoidance behaviour of Australian commercial caged laying hens may be related to stockperson behaviour, albumen corticosterone, and the number of weeks producing within 5% of peak egg production. Nineteen laying houses were assessed over 3 days. Fear of humans in hens, based on their avoidance response to an unfamiliar human, was assessed using two behavioural tests. Albumen corticosterone concentrations were measured from egg samples collected immediately prior to behavioural testing. Stockperson attitudes were assessed using a questionnaire and stockperson behaviour was observed over 2 days. Productivity records for each laying house were also obtained. The duration of peak production was negatively related to both noise made by the stockperson and hen avoidance. No relationship between stockperson behaviour or attitudes and hen avoidance was found, but stockpeople with negative attitudes made more noise. In conclusion, this study could not confirm a relationship between stockperson behaviour and hen avoidance behaviour for Australian caged laying hens. However, this study did confirm a relationship between hen avoidance behaviour, albumen corticosterone concentration, and the duration of peak egg production.
Keywords: albumen corticosterone; egg farm; fear; human-animal relationship; laying hen; stockpeople attitudes; stockperson behaviour; welfare.