Activity of broilers is related to their gait, but activity recordings alone cannot fully distinguish between birds with a good or a suboptimal gait. That is the main conclusion of a study by Wageningen Livestock Research.
Activity tracking and gait scoring
Gait or walking ability is often recorded for broilers as an indicator for leg health. Gait recordings are often performed manually, which can be time-consuming and subjective. Therefore, there is an interest in automated measuring of alternative traits that can be used as a proxy for leg health. One trait that has potential to provide indications for broiler gait is locomotor activity.
An automated activity tracking system – implemented within the Breed4Food individual tracking project – was used to record individual activity of 137 broilers from 16 to 32 days old. At the end of the tracking period, the gait of each bird was scored by an expert.
Gait was scored on a scale of 0 for best to 5 for worst. Scores 0-2 were considered “good” and scores 3-5 were considered “suboptimal”.
Birds with a good gait appear more active
The activity of birds with a good gait was compared to that of birds with a suboptimal gait. Birds with a good gait showed higher activity at the start of the tracking period, at the end of the tracking and when averaging across the full tracking period.
In subsequent analyses, the body weight of the birds was taken into account, based on a classification of heavy versus light at approximately two weeks old, as well as the day of tracking, trial and cross of the birds. Within the lightweight birds, those with a good gait were again more active than the birds with a suboptimal gait. For heavyweight birds, no difference in activity was found.
Overall, this study indicated that birds with different gait classifications showed differences in average activity levels. However, there was quite some overlap in activity levels between the two gait groups, which complicated distinguishing broilers with different gaits using information on activity levels only. Therefore, more research is required to potentially be able to completely distinguish between good gait and suboptimal gait broilers. This was a joint study from Wageningen University and Research and Utrecht University, in collaboration with Cobb Europe and Breed4Food, and was recently published in the scientific journal Poultry Science.