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Measuring behaviour in hens using an ethogram to assess analgesia during further refinement of a high welfare, on-hen, poultry red mite feeding device


  • F. G. Nunn

  • D. A. Ewing

  • K. Bartley

  • Javier Palarea-Albaladejo

  • W. Chen

  • D. R. G. Price

  • A. J. Nisbet

Is Part of:

F1000 Research, 12, 715



To refine an on-hen mite feeding device, an ethogram was employed to measure the reactions of hens during a routine experimental procedure (feather plucking) and to assess effects of analgesic cream on those reactions.


Three experimental groups were used; one treated with EMLA 5% before plucking (“EMLA group”); one with aqueous cream (“placebo group”) and a “no treatment” group. Behaviours were measured and compared on three days: ‘dummy handling day’ i.e. no plucking; ‘plucking day’, plucking the left thigh; and ‘treatment day’ i.e with right thighs plucked post-treatment. Poultry red mite feeding assays were performed to examine effect of creams on mite feeding rates, mortality and fecundity. All data were analysed using generalised linear (mixed) modelling approaches.


Use of the ethogram demonstrated no significant difference in hen behaviours in the EMLA group between dummy handling day and treatment day (p = 0.949) alongside a significant reduction in measured behaviours between plucking day and treatment day in the same group (p = 0.028). There was a statistically significant increase in measured behaviours from the dummy handling day to the plucking day in both placebo (p = 0.011) and no treatment group (p < 0.001). Effect sizes and directions were similar between dummy handling and treatment days in the ‘placebo’ and ‘no treatment’ groups, though not statistically significant (placebo, p = 0.064; no treatment p = 0.069). Mite feeding in the EMLA group was significantly lower than in the no treatment group in feeding assay 1 (p = 0.029) only. Mite mortality and fertility were unaffected.


The ethogram successfully measured changes in observed behaviours between the dummy handling session and procedures. No adverse effects of EMLA cream on hens were demonstrated at 3mg/kg in hens. Use of analgesia for this routine procedure improves hens’ experiences during experimental trials.

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