Genetic improvement of skeletal architecture and locomotion in domestic poultry
Duggan, Brendan Michael
Breeding success in the broiler chicken has been accompanied by gait problems which are detrimental to productivity and welfare. Although these gait issues have not been reported to the same extent in Pekin ducks, there is concern that such problems will manifest if the duck continues on its current selection trajectory. In order to understand how changes in morphology due to selection have affected gait in both species, divergent lines were objectively assessed for gait using a pressure platform (12 birds per line at three, five and seven weeks of age). The broiler chicken was compared to the slower growing layer chicken and the Pekin duck to its slower growing ancestor, the mallard. Two breeding lines of Pekin duck were also assessed. After gait assessment, the leg bones (femur and tibiotarsus) were scanned by computed tomography to measure morphological changes which have occurred due to selection for high growth and meat yield. Results were analysed by ANOVA, accounting for age and sex. During walking, heavy lines walked at a slower velocity, displayed a wider stance and spent more time supporting their mass on both feet than their lighter conspecifics, strategies which are likely to improve balance. The foot angle while walking differed between lines; all duck lines rotated their feet internally whereas the layer chickens’ feet were aligned with the direction of travel. Conversely the broiler chicken rotated its feet externally by seven weeks of age. Morphologically, the main differences were between species. Duck lines reached adult leg size earlier than chickens, which may be a response to differing adaptive environments prior to domestication. This early cessation of bone growth in ducks may provide more opportunity for the bones to remodel to handle the loads imposed on them. Lower levels of porosity and a unique cortical architecture observed in ducks endow relatively greater bone strength. Bone curvature also differed between species; the tibiotarsus curved more laterally in ducks than in chickens and may be a swimming adaptation that hinders locomotion on land in the modern production bird. In order to improve the objectivity of selection for better gait in poultry, the genetic parameters of gait components selected on the basis of results in this thesis were estimated using a linear mixed model in a population of Pekin ducks of known pedigree. As they are a simpler measure, similar or improved heritability estimates were estimated for these gait components when compared with the standard commercial gait score which is based on a subjective view of walking ability. Intense selection for economic traits has altered gait in similar ways in both species. To improve gait in poultry, greater breeding success may be achieved by focussing on those components of gait which have changed through selection, rather than using a subjective overall visual gait score. Furthermore, in both species, adaptations for pre-domesticated life may have affected the ability with which the selected lines have accommodated their gait to other morphological changes associated with increasing body mass.