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Poult Sci. 2003 Jun;82(6):992-1002.

Physiology and behavior of the hen during induced molt.

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Department of Poultry Science, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-4356, USA.


Feed deprivation has been adopted by the commercial egg industry to induce molt because it is the easiest method to apply and produces the best results. Feed deprivation, however, raises concerns about animal welfare. Birds respond to long-term feed deprivation in three phases. The first phase lasts at most a few days, during which physiological and behavioral adjustments ultimately reduce protein catabolism and energy expenditure. A temporary increase in plasma corticosterone may be observed at this time. Corticosterone promotes gluconeogenesis, helping to maintain plasma glucose levels in the initial stage of the fast. The corticosterone increase may also be linked to increased activity in feed-deprived birds. Hens have been observed to manifest temporarily increased levels of alertness and activity during the first 48 h of feed deprivation. Aggressive behavior of hens also has been observed to increase briefly during the first day of feed deprivation. The second phase is the longest, during which proteins are spared and lipids are catabolized to provide energy. This phase may last several months in some species; in the chicken it can continue more than 20 d. Hens show increasing amounts of resting behavior during this phase. The third phase begins when protein catabolism accelerates. A pathological stage eventually is reached when the bird will cease activity and no longer eat. The phased response to feed deprivation optimizes a tradeoff between the need to maintain constant levels of plasma glucose to sustain activity and the need to preserve critical body structures such as muscles and organs. Hens are capable of vigorous activity throughout feed deprivation periods typical of induced molts, which do not appear to take birds beyond the second phase of fasting. Hens having undergone extended fasts may also have improved livability. Alternative induced molting methods are being sought to reduce animal welfare concerns. The methods of current interest involve alteration of feeding regimen and cause at least some body weight loss. These alternative methods should be evaluated to ensure that they do not actually make aspects of hen welfare worse compared to feed withdrawal, which might happen if hens perceive feed restriction without being allowed to progress fully into the second phase of adaptation to feed deprivation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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