Relationship between ranging behavior and spatial memory of free-range chickens

Vitor Hugo Bessa Ferreira*, Benoit Peuteman, Flore Lormant, Mathilde Valenchon, Karine Germain, Mathilde Brachet, Christine Leterrier, Léa Lansade, Ludovic Calandreau, Vanessa Guesdon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Different personalities may lead to different ways of processing environmental information; however, the relationship between personality and cognition is not fully understood as studies on diverse species present contrasting results. As there is great within-flock variability of outdoor ranging behavior in free-range broiler chickens, we tested whether and how ranging behavior impacts on individual spatial memory abilities. The experiment was conducted on one flock (n = 200) reared in the same conditions throughout the study, to simulate on-farm situations. As the ranging behavior was stable over time, we compared two distinct groups of male chickens: one that visited the range more (High rangers) and one that was more prone to staying in the poultry house (Low rangers). To test the spatial memory, individuals (n = 30) went through two main phases in an arena with 8 cups. For the familiarization phase, individuals were submitted to one trial per day, for seven days, to a situation where all eight cups were baited with mealworms. Animals had to reach a criterion of 5 cups visited out of 8 to advance to the next phase. For the spatial test, only four cups were baited and systematically placed at the same location. This last phase comprised two trials per individual per day, for nine days. During these two phases, latency to visit cups and the number of visits and revisits of all cups were recorded. Low ranger chickens took less time to attain the pre-established threshold of visiting 5 cups out of 8, over the familiarization phase. During the spatial test, the latency to visit four cups decreased between the within-day trials for low ranger chickens and increased for high ranger chickens. Moreover, in the within-day trial analysis, low ranger chickens exhibited an improvement on spatial memory and better spatial memory compared to high ranger chickens. Different speed-accuracy trade-offs may explain these differences between low and high ranger chickens and the way individuals interact and solve the task. Our study strengthens the scientific evidence relating consistent individual differences in behavior, with the ranging behavior of free-range chickens, and cognitive performance during a spatial memory task.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103888
JournalBehavioural Processes
Early online date18 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


  • Birds
  • Broiler
  • Cognition
  • Free-range chicken
  • Personality


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