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Journal Articles Animal Year : 2024

High-throughput phenotyping to characterise range use behaviour in broiler chickens


A key characteristic of free-range chicken farming is to enable chickens to spend time outdoors. However, each chicken may use the available areas for roaming in variable ways. To check if, and how, broilers use their outdoor range at an individual level, we need to reliably characterise range use behaviour. Traditional methods relying on visual scans require significant time investment and only provide discontinuous information. Passive RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) systems enable tracking individually tagged chickens’ when they go through pop-holes; hence, they only provide partial information on the movements of individual chickens. Here, we describe a new method to measure chickens’ range use and test its reliability on three ranges each containing a different breed. We used an active RFID system to localise chickens in their barn, or in one of nine zones of their range, every 30 seconds and assessed range-use behaviour in 600 chickens belonging to three breeds of slow- or medium-growing broilers used for outdoor production (all <40 g daily weight gain). From those real-time locations, we determined five measures to describe daily range use: time spent in the barn, number of outdoor accesses, number of zones visited in a day, gregariousness (an index that increases when birds spend time in zones where other birds are), and numbers of zone changes. Principal Component Analyses (PCAs) were performed on those measures, in each production system, to create two synthetic indicators of chickens’ range use behaviour. The first two PCA axes represented over 90% of the variance of the five measures and were both consistent over time and correlated with independent visual scans. Contributions of the five measures to the PCAs were similar among breeds, except for the correlation between the number of outdoor accesses and the four other measures. PC1 correlated with time spent inside the barn and zone changes frequency, whilst PC2 was explained by exploration of the range. Taken together, PC1 and PC2 indicators showed that range use increased with age, outdoor temperature (in spring), and did not differ between males and females. Importantly, daily scores for both indicators were repeatable among individuals - particularly in PC1 - showing inter-individual variability on range-use. The characterisation of broiler behaviour around their range with these reliable and repeatable indicators provides novel tools to help understand individual variations of range-use in free-range farming.
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hal-04588500 , version 1 (27-05-2024)




Julie Collet, Claire Bonnefous, K. Germain, Laure Ravon, Ludovic Calandreau, et al.. High-throughput phenotyping to characterise range use behaviour in broiler chickens. Animal, 2024, 18 (3), pp.101099. ⟨10.1016/j.animal.2024.101099⟩. ⟨hal-04588500⟩
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