Leg Disorders in Broiler Chickens: Prevalence, Risk Factors and Prevention

School of Veterinary Science, University of Bristol, Langford, Bristol, United Kingdom.
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.23). 02/2008; 3(2):e1545. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001545
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Broiler (meat) chickens have been subjected to intense genetic selection. In the past 50 years, broiler growth rates have increased by over 300% (from 25 g per day to 100 g per day). There is growing societal concern that many broiler chickens have impaired locomotion or are even unable to walk. Here we present the results of a comprehensive survey of commercial flocks which quantifies the risk factors for poor locomotion in broiler chickens. We assessed the walking ability of 51,000 birds, representing 4.8 million birds within 176 flocks. We also obtained information on approximately 150 different management factors associated with each flock. At a mean age of 40 days, over 27.6% of birds in our study showed poor locomotion and 3.3% were almost unable to walk. The high prevalence of poor locomotion occurred despite culling policies designed to remove severely lame birds from flocks. We show that the primary risk factors associated with impaired locomotion and poor leg health are those specifically associated with rate of growth. Factors significantly associated with high gait score included the age of the bird (older birds), visit (second visit to same flock), bird genotype, not feeding whole wheat, a shorter dark period during the day, higher stocking density at the time of assessment, no use of antibiotic, and the use of intact feed pellets. The welfare implications are profound. Worldwide approximately 2 x 10(10) broilers are reared within similar husbandry systems. We identify a range of management factors that could be altered to reduce leg health problems, but implementation of these changes would be likely to reduce growth rate and production. A debate on the sustainability of current practice in the production of this important food source is required.

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    • "The biological validity of QBA is supported by studies that found QBA outcomes to be significantly associated with physiological indicators of stress in cattle, sheep, and pigs (Stockman et al., 2011; Rutherford et al., 2012; Wickham et al., 2012; Stockman et al., 2013). The ABM mentioned above have been used in several previous studies, but to the best of our knowledge, most reports on risk factors for broiler welfare focus on just 1 or 2, often related, ABM: contact dermatitis: Ekstrand and Carpenter (1998), Haslam et al. (2007), Allain et al. (2009); lameness: Knowles et al. (2008); human-animal interactions: Hemsworth et al. (1994); Zulkifli et al. (2002), or on RBM [e.g., stocking density: Dawkins et al. (2004)]. A set of both ABM and RBM that was deliberately diverse, as in Sanotra et al. (2002), has rarely been used. "
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    ABSTRACT: The objectives of this study were to 1) identify determinants of poor welfare in commercial broiler chicken flocks by studying the associations between selected resource-based measures (RBM, potential risk factors), such as litter quality and dark period, and animal-based welfare indicators (ABM), such as foot pad dermatitis and lameness, and 2) establish the breadth of effect of a risk factor by determining the range of animal welfare indicators associated with each of the risk factors (i.e., the number of ABM related to a specific RBM). Eighty-nine broiler flocks were inspected in 4 European countries (France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands) in a cross-sectional study. The ABM were contact dermatitis (measured using scores of foot-pad dermatitis and hock burn, respectively), lameness (measured as gait score), fear of humans (measured by the avoidance distance test and the touch test), and negative emotional state (measured using qualitative behavior assessment, QBA). In a first step, risk factors were identified by building a multiple linear regression model for each ABM. Litter quality was identified as a risk factor for contact dermatitis. Length of dark period at 3 wk old (DARK3) was a risk factor for the touch test result. DARK3 and flock age were risk factors for lameness, and the number of different stockmen and DARK3 were risk factors for QBA results. Next, the ABM were grouped according to risk factor and counted. Then, in a second step, associations between the ABM were investigated using common factor analysis. The breadth of a risk factor's effect was judged by combining the number (count) of ABM related to this factor and the strength of association between these ABM. Flock age and DARK3 appeared to affect several weakly correlated ABM, thus indicating a broad range of effects. Our findings suggest that manipulation of the predominant risk factors identified in this study (DARK3, litter quality, and slaughter age) could generate improvements in the related ABM and thereby enhance the birds' overall welfare status.
    Poultry Science 11/2013; 92(11):2811-26. DOI:10.3382/ps.2013-03208 · 1.67 Impact Factor
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    • "To date, most scientific assessment methods include bird herding and enclosing, as most of the available studies on broiler welfare evaluation are based on scoring particular welfare deficiencies on the individual level (Welfare Quality, 2009). For welfare assessment, bird samples in diverse numbers are taken usually at random locations of the house, and then scored for the chosen set of welfare indicators (Sanotra et al., 2003; Dawkins et al., 2004; Knowles et al., 2008). This commonly used procedure is time consuming because it requires catching, enclosing, and handling birds, but most importantly, it might be stress inducing (Jones, 1992), influencing birds' performance during gait scoring . "
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    ABSTRACT: Current scientific approaches to welfare assessment in broilers are based on individual sampling that can be time consuming under field conditions. On the other hand, farmers conduct routine checks based on walks through the house to screen birds' health condition. We adapted the walks through following line transect methodology used in wildlife studies to explore their feasibility as a welfare assessment tool. The aim of this study was to compare broiler welfare assessed by individual sampling and transect walks. We evaluated 6 identically managed flocks. For individual sampling, we collected measures on 150 birds, including weight, breast dirtiness, hock and footpad dermatitis, lameness, and immobility. Transect observations were conducted by slowly walking on randomized paths within each house recording: immobility, lameness, back dirtiness, sickness, agony, and dead. Transect walks allowed detection of small variations (P < 0.003) in the prevalence of most welfare indicators considered with consistency in interobserver reliability (P ≥ 0.05). In addition, assessments across transects were highly consistent (P ≥ 0.05). Individual sampling was also sensitive to differences across houses (P < 0.01) with the exception of immobility (P = 0.783). No differences were found across sampling locations (P ≥ 0.05). However, both methods differed greatly in the frequency of the incidence of the parameters considered. For example, immobility varied from 0.2 ± 0.02% for transect walks to 4 ± 2.3% for individual sampling, whereas lameness varied between 0.8 ± 0.07% and 24.2 ± 4.7% for transect and samplings, respectively. It is possible that the transect approach may have overlooked walking deficiencies because a large number of birds were scored, although if this was the case, the consistency obtained in the scoring across observers and transects would be surprising. Differences may also be related to possibly biased individual sampling procedures, where less mobile and passive individuals may be more likely to be caught. Furthermore the procedure may cause fatigue and fear reactions reducing mobility. Current study provides new insights into constraints and advantages of broiler on-farm assessment methods, which should be considered for designing on-farm welfare assessment protocols.
    Poultry Science 10/2013; 92(10):2588-99. DOI:10.3382/ps.2013-03229 · 1.67 Impact Factor
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    • "Lameness has been reported to affect almost 30% of intensively-reared broilers in the UK (Knowles et al., 2008). The cause can be infectious or non-infectious, and may involve tendons, joints, ligaments and bones (Bradshaw et al., 2002). "
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    ABSTRACT: Pain associated with poultry lameness is poorly understood. The anti-nociceptive properties of two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) were evaluated using threshold testing in combination with an acute inflammatory arthropathy model. Broilers were tested in six groups (n = 8 per group). Each group underwent a treatment (saline, meloxicam (3 or 5 mg/kg) or carprofen (15 or 25 mg/kg)) and a procedure (Induced (arthropathy-induction) or sham (sham-handling)) prior to testing. Induced groups had Freund’s complete adjuvant injected intra-articularly into the left intertarsal joint (hock). A ramped thermal stimulus (1 °C/s) was applied to the skin of the left metatarsal. Data were analysed using random-intercept multi-level models. Saline-induced birds had a significantly higher skin temperature (± SD) than saline-sham birds (37.6 ± 0.8 °C vs. 36.5 ± 0.5 °C; Z = −3.47, P < 0.001), consistent with an inflammatory response. Saline was associated with significantly lower thermal thresholds (TT) than analgesic treatment (meloxicam: Z = 2.72, P = 0.007; carprofen: Z = 2.58, P = 0.010) in induced birds. Saline-induced birds also had significantly lower TT than saline-sham birds (Z = −2.17, P = 0.030). This study found direct evidence of an association between inflammatory arthropathies and thermal hyperalgesia, and showed that NSAID treatment maintained baseline thermal sensitivity (via anti-nociception). Quantification of nociceptive responsiveness in a predictable broiler pain model identified thermal anti-hyperalgesic properties of two NSAIDs, which suggested that therapeutically effective treatment was provided at the doses administered. Such validation of analgesic strategies will increase the understanding of pain associated with specific natural broiler lameness types.
    The Veterinary Journal 09/2013; 198(3). DOI:10.1016/j.tvjl.2013.09.013 · 1.76 Impact Factor
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