The aim of this study was to explore lameness and the associations between lameness and health/production measures of animal welfare in commercial broiler production, using the Welfare Quality protocol for broilers.
A total of 50 flocks were included in the sample and farm visits were conducted for lameness scoring at a mean age of 28.9 days. The percentage of animals (n=7500) in the six different gait score (GS) categories were GS0: 2.53 per cent, GS1: 44.19 per cent, GS2: 33.84 per cent, GS3: 16.32 per cent, GS4: 2.36 per cent and GS5: 0.53 per cent.
Production and other welfare data were collected for each flock after slaughter. Higher gait scores were associated with increased hock burn score (P< 0.02), increased footpad dermatitis score (P< 0.01), reduced bird cleanliness score (P< 0.01) and peat litter (P< 0.01).
Although not statistically significant, there was a tendency for increased flock gait score being associated with wet litter (P=0.07). In addition, condemnations at postmortem inspection were associated with increasing gait scores (P<0.05), indicating that at least a portion of the lameness cases display pathological changes on the carcasses.
In conclusion, 19 per cent of the birds showed moderate-to-severe lameness, which was associated with several production or health and welfare observations including feather cleanliness and condemnations as unfit for human consumption at slaughter. Although stocking density and growth rate are already known key factors for lameness, associations of lameness with hock burns, footpad dermatitis and cleanliness of the birds suggest that a suboptimal physical environment (e.g. litter and air quality) may be detrimental to leg health.
Further studies are needed to explore these associations in more detail.
The study is from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Oslo, Norway; Norwegian Meat and Poultry Research Centre, Oslo, Norway; and Wageningen Livestock Research, Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Granquist EG, Vasdal G, de Jong IC, Moe RO.