Casey Owens, PhD, professor of poultry science, University of Arkansas, told the audience at the Feed Strategy Conference during the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta on January 25, 2022, that there is no silver bullet to eliminate woody breast or even substantially reduce it. She did say that a multi-hurdle approach using a combination of feeding strategies might work to reduce the incidence and severity of breast myopathies.
Currently over 70% of broiler breast meat in the U.S. is derived from birds that are processed at weights over six pounds. Owens shared research results that showed that high yielding strains of broilers have double the rate of severe woody breast than do strains bred for the fast-food cut-up or tray pack markets. Breast myopathies increase plant condemnation, decrease yields from drip loss, cook loss and poor marinade retention, according to Owens.
Reduced amino acid and energy density decreased woody breast, but it also reduces growth rate and increases the feed conversion rate. One study showed that reducing amino acids in the diet by 15% between 12-24 days of age did reduce the severity of woody breast. Simply marketing birds of the same strain fed on the regular feed regime has very little impact on severity of woody breast, Owens reported.
Feed additives that have been tested for their impact on the incidence and severity of woody breast in broilers include increased phytase, dietary antioxidants, trace mineral, guanidinoacetic acid, and in ovo feeding of nicotinamide riboside. While some of these additives have shown promise in individual studies, more research is needed.
Based on the current state of our knowledge of woody breast, I would think that each big bird broiler complex might have a unique feeding and marketing solution to maximize return on its production. For some complexes reducing amino acid and energy density in the ration might yield enough of a reduction in woody breast to offset increased growing cost per pound. What will ultimately matter isn’t the lowest cost per live pound delivered to the plant, but rather the best net return on saleable pounds out the back door of the plant.