World's Poultry Science Journal

Review Article

Welfare of broilers: a review

W. BESSEIa1

a1 University of Hohenheim, Institute of Animal Husbandry and Breeding (470), D-70593 Stuttgart, Germany E-mail: bessei@uni-hohenheim.de

Abstract

Selection for fast early growth rate and feeding and management procedures which support growth have lead to various welfare problems in modern broiler strains. Problems which are directly linked to growth rate are metabolic disorders causing mortality by the Sudden Death Syndrome and ascites. Fast growth rate is generally accompanied by decreased locomotor activity and extended time spent sitting or lying. The lack of exercise is considered a main cause of leg weakness, and extreme durations of sitting on poor quality litter produces skin lesions at the breast and the legs. Management factors which slow down early growth alleviate many welfare problems. Alternatively it may be considered to use slow growing strains which do not have the above mentioned welfare problems. Since growth is a main economical factor, there are problems of acceptability of these measures in the commercial broiler production. Stocking density is a central issue of broiler welfare. It is evident, that the influence of stocking density on growth rate and leg problems acts through its influence on litter and air quality. High moisture content of the litter enhances microbial activity, which in turn leads to increase of temperature and ammonia in broiler houses, and thus, high incidence of contact dermatitis. High stocking density impedes heat transfer from the litter surface to the ventilated room. This restricts the efficacy of conventional ventilation systems in alleviating heat stress. Lighting programmes with reduced photoperiods are considered essential for the stimulation of locomotor activity and the development of a circadian rhythm in the birds. Extended dark periods, however, reduce growth when applied in the first weeks of age. Compensation occurs when the time of the production cycle is substantially increased. Various methods to enrich the environment have shown only moderate effects on the behaviour and physical conditions of broilers.

(Received November 25 2005)

(Accepted January 24 2006)