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Journal of Animal Science Abstract - Animal Health and Well-Being

Association between environmental predisposing risk factors and leg disorders in broiler chickens12


This article in JAS

  1. Vol. 95 No. 4, p. 1512-1520
    Received: Nov 30, 2016
    Accepted: Jan 22, 2017
    Published: April 13, 2017

    3 Corresponding author(s):

  1. E. Tullo*,
  2. I. Fontana 3*,
  3. A. Peña Fernandez,
  4. E. Vranken†‡,
  5. T. Norton,
  6. D. Berckmans and
  7. M. Guarino*
  1. * Department of Health, Animal Science and Food Safety (VESPA), Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Università degli Studi, Milan, 20133, Italy
     Department of Biosystems, Division Animal and Human Health Engineering, M3 BIORES, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, 3001, Belgium
     Fancom BV, Panningen, NL-5980, The Netherlands


Footpad dermatitis and lameness are a major welfare concern in broiler chicken farming. In general, footpad lesions are linked to poor environmental conditions. Ulcers that arise from advanced lesions can negatively affect the gait of the birds, with effects on the animal welfare, including, in the worst cases, inability to reach the feed or water. In this study, the degree of footpad dermatitis and lameness was manually scored on 4 broiler farms across Europe, as part of an EU-wide welfare assessment program. The welfare of the chickens was assessed 3 times per production cycle (at wk 3, 4, and 5), scoring footpad dermatitis, lameness, and litter quality. In the same broiler farms, variables such as air temperature and relative humidity were automatically measured over the same period. These variables were combined into a widely accepted thermal comfort index and associated to upper and lower thresholds, which made it possible to quantify the percentage of time the birds spent out of the thermal comfort zone (POOC). The data was analyzed by combining data from the welfare assessments with environmental data collected by the automated monitoring systems. Considering the comparison between POOC classes, the highest probabilities of footpad dermatitis and lameness were obtained when POOC values exceeded the 70% threshold. Therefore, the analysis showed that footpad dermatitis and lameness were more frequent when the flock was exposed to poor environmental conditions for prolonged periods (P < 0.001). Since environmental conditions can be continuously measured, and the risk factor for footpad dermatitis and lameness increases with poor environmental conditions, there is the possibility to develop a detection and control system of severe lesions.

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