Too hungry to learn? Hungry broiler breeders fail to learn a Y-maze food quantity discrimination task

L. A. Buckley*, L. M. McMillan, V. Sandilands, B. J. Tolkamp, P. M. Hocking, R. B. D'Eath

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Choice tests may aid determining whether qualitative dietary restriction improves the welfare of feed-restricted broiler breeder chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus). However, hunger-stress may reduce competency to choose by impairing learning. The effect of chronic feed restriction on the ability of broiler breeders to learn a hunger-relevant discrimination task was investigated using a Y-maze paradigm. paradigm. The task was to associate black and white arms with large and small quantities of feed. Birds were reared to three growth curves by means of severe (n = 12), moderate (n = 12) or very mild feed restriction (n = 12). Learning the task and selecting the larger food option allowed birds to increase their feed intake. Time taken to traverse the Y-maze was also measured. Birds from all treatment groups traversed the Y-maze more quickly over time, indicating that they had learnt that running down the Y-maze arms was associated with a rewarding outcome (food). However, feed restriction significantly reduced their ability to associate the black and white cues with differences in food quantity. Consequently, average pay-offs in terms of daily feed increments disproportionately accrued to the less feed-restricted treatment groups. It is concluded that feed restriction affected the performance of broiler breeders in this task, perhaps by narrowing their attention such that they ignore potentially hunger-relevant contextual cues. However, low overall group success rates demonstrate that this task was difficult to learn even for less severely feed-restricted birds. Therefore, Y-maze choice tests may not be the most appropriate method for determining hungry broiler breeder dietary preferences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-481
Number of pages13
JournalAnimal Welfare Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • animal welfare broiler breeders choice test feed restriction learning stress t-maze spontaneous-alternation memory formation body-weight growth-rate restriction welfare stress behavior chickens


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