Hens are raised apart from roosters in modern poultry production, a substantial change from their natural social structure. We compared productivity, injuries, behavior, physiology, microbiome and transcriptome of hens housed with (R+) or without (R-) roosters to quantify the effects of this change in social structure. Hens were raised free-range from 70 to 280 days when 30 birds per treatment were assigned to battery cages until Day 315 (R+C vs. R-C), while 30 birds per treatment remained in free-range pens (R+F vs. R-F). Response to a novel environment and object, behavioral time budgets, cecum microbiome, blood composition and transcriptomic sequencing of thigh muscle and spleen were analyzed. Hens housed without roosters showed better survival, consumed less food, produced more eggs and had better feed conversion. R+F hens clustered around the rooster and were less mobile in the novel environment and object tests. R+F hens displayed the richest microbiome, and the presence of roosters resulted in differentially expressed genes related to muscle development, cellular processes, environmental information processing and immune function. Removing roosters from housed hens intensified desirable characteristics favored by domestication probably operating by deprivation of mating behavior and reduced fear, along with altered microbial and genetic function.
- domestic phenotype
- gut microbiome