A comparison of fast growing broiler chickens with a slower-growing breed type reared on Higher Welfare commercial farms

Mary Baxter, Anne Richmond, Ursula Lavery, Niamh E. O'Connell

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Abstract

Slowing the growth of modern broiler chickens can have a positive effect on a number of welfare outcomes. However, relatively few studies have compared fast and slower growing broiler chickens reared under the same commercial conditions. The main aim of this study was to evaluate a slower growing breed and standard fast growing broilers on commercial farms. Ross 308 broilers and slower growing Hubbard Redbro broilers were housed on six farms for 17 production cycles. Production data were available for all cycles. Behaviour and environmental measures were taken over one cycle on each of two farms. The farms were visited during weeks 3–6 for both breeds and week 7 for Redbros. We found that breed had a significant effect on a number of measures, including gait score, latency to lie, feather cover, avoidance distances, perch use and play behaviour (p < 0.05). Gait scores were consistently lower among the Redbro flocks during weeks 4, 5, 6 and 7. Redbro broilers generally had longer latency to lie times, better feather cover, and were more reactive to approaching observers. They also showed higher levels of perch use and play. Despite these indications of improved locomotion and physical ability, we found little difference in their general behaviour. However, Redbro broilers did perform longer activity bouts in week 7 than Ross 308s in their final week. There was no effect of breed on dust levels, ammonia concentration or litter condition. Redbro broilers were slaughtered 5.5 days later than Ross 308 birds at a lower average weight (2.32 vs 2.52kg) and had lower mortality, fewer culls and fewer carcasses downgraded at the abattoir. Our results suggest that the slower growing strain was healthier throughout the cycle and more capable of displaying some natural behaviours.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0259333
JournalPLoS One
Volume16
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 04 Nov 2021

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