The behaviour of broiler chickens and its modification by lameness

Big Broiler

Abstract

The behaviour of six replicates of broilers obtained from commercial farms, fed ad-libitum and housed on 23-h light:1-h dark schedule at 20 lx was observed using scan sampling. Comparisons were made between sound birds and those of varying degrees of lameness between 39 and 49 days of age. Sound broilers averaged 76% of their time lying and this increased significantly to 86% in lame birds (gait score 3).

Lying also increased with age. Although sound broilers spent only a minor part of the day on their feet, they spent significantly more time standing idle (7%), standing preening (3.5%) and standing eating (4.7%) than lame birds. Walking declined with age, but occupied an average 3.3% of the time of a slaughter-weight broiler. Again, lameness significantly reduced this to a minimal 1.5% in the worst affected birds. Sound birds predominantly chose the usual standing posture for eating, whereas, lame birds lay down to eat for almost half their feeding time.

Detailed observations using video records revealed that lameness altered the feeding strategy of broilers. Whereas sound birds fed over 50 times in 24 h, the number of visits to the feeder was reduced with increasing lameness to an average of around 30 in the lamest broilers. However, meal duration was adjusted to give no overall differences in time spent feeding per day. Time spent drinking was also the same for all birds, averaging 3% of the day.

The alterations of the time budget, in particular the reductions in activities performed whilst standing, and the different feeding strategies adopted, are consistent with lameness imposing a cost on the affected broilers to the detriment of their welfare.

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