a1 Silsoe Research Institute, Wrest Park, Silsoe, Bedfordshire MK45 4HS, UK
Modern fowl breeder production has resulted in a wide disparity between the environment, mating behaviour and morphology of modern breeds in comparison with progenitor species. The environment is strictly controlled in most respects and dim lighting is maintained with luminaires that were originally designed for humans and that differ substantially in terms of intensity and colour balance from natural daylight. The elaborate mating displays observed in feral poultry and red jungle fowl rarely, if ever, occur in breeder houses. In most avian species females choose the males, whereas cockerels in breeder houses often appear to mate forcibly and aggressively with hens in the absence of any assessment by the hen. Cockerel and hen breeder fowl also differ morphologically from their progenitor species through genetic selection (larger and heavier) or mutilations (dubbing, etc). Given the apparently large differences between the subtle, gradually evolved mating ‘ecology’ found naturally and the production environments found commercially, it is perhaps surprising that little consideration has been given to this disparity in modern breeder production environments. An understanding of the factors governing choice of mate in commercial breeder houses and the influence of the visual environment may highlight novel methods whereby efficiency of these enterprises can be improved and elements of the welfare of breeder fowl assessed.