Work on the biomechanical simulations of chicken gait to inspire and inform artificial selection on measurable anatomical traits in chicken breeding will be carried out by Professor John Hutchinson at the U.K.’s Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and has been boosted by a grant of GBP50,000 (US$84,000) from Cobb Europe. 

Hutchinson notes that selective breeding has led to an “extreme organism with changes to its anatomy as well as an increase in growth rate."

“Unfortunately, coupled with the success of harnessing the power of selection are a number of welfare concerns,“ adds Hutchinson. “Impaired walking ability or lameness is often highlighted as a major problem, affecting up to 30 percent of broiler populations.

“Beyond these obvious welfare concerns are also economic losses and concerns for future production, especially when continued practice relies on customer and consumer acceptance of the farming practices involved. The pressure to develop ‘healthier’ broiler strains and generally improve welfare standards is therefore paramount.”

Advertisement

He continued that the RVC’s previous research had led to the conclusion that part of the problem these broilers have is related to their anatomy – i.e. creating birds with large breast muscles and increased body weight has ultimately changed the way these birds walk and is part of the complex puzzle which surrounds their walking ability/lameness.

A better relationship between these desired production traits – high meat content and fast growth – and ‘healthy’ walking-related traits could be achieved through targeted artificial selection, ultimately allowing industry to produce chickens with high production efficiency and optimal welfare.

The study will use 3-D biomechanical, musculoskeletal computer simulations of a broiler chicken to predict what the effects of selection for specific anatomical traits would have on its locomotion. It will focus on the loads placed on the leg joints and the metabolic energy costs incurred during walking, because these should directly correlate with the incidence of certain leg pathologies and the level of activity or fatigue in broilers. 

The study will then establish which traits cause the most significant problems and use this information to propose a ‘redesign’ compromise between the needs of the industry and those of the chicken to improve walking ability.