The influence of stocking density on broiler chicken bone quality and fluctuating asymmetry
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Poultry science. - Champaign, Ill.
, p. 1759-1767
University of Antwerp
Because broiler chickens are juvenile animals undergoing physical development, stocking density during rearing may influence this development. Some of these physical changes may cause welfare problems, for example, decreased bone quality, which may lead to fracture during catching and transport. Others do not influence welfare directly but can be used as indicators of the animal's ability to cope with its environment (e.g., fluctuating asymmetry). The present study evaluates the effect of stocking density on bone quality and fluctuating asymmetry. Birds were stocked at densities of 2.4, 5.8, 8.8, 12.1, 13.6, 15.5, 18.5, and 21.8 birds/m(2) from 1 until 39 d of age. Increased stocking density had a negative effect on some aspects of bone quality (tibia curvature and shear strength). Tibias were shorter at high density, possibly due to increased curvature. Several other bone quality aspects (tibia weight, torsion, and dyschondroplasia, and femur curvature and epiphysis shape) remained unaffected. Middle-toe length was the only character that showed a significant increase with increasing density when each character was analyzed separately. Nevertheless, a composite index of fluctuating asymmetry, which combined data on all 11 measured characters, tended to increase with stocking density. Such increased fluctuating asymmetry may indicate decreased welfare. However, one of the assumptions of fluctuating asymmetry is that the animal is subjected to the same environmental influences on both sides. This assumption may not be fulfilled when leg deformations occur, as these may lead to asymmetric changes in bone growth by altering the division of force over the 2 legs. In addition, leg deformations decrease the accuracy of bone length measurements made in a straight line. This raises some concerns on the applicability of fluctuating asymmetry measurements on broiler chicken legs, especially because stocking density did not effect the asymmetry of the head.