2010 - 2013

Assessing the behaviour and welfare of broiler breeders using alternative feeding strategies

Principal Investigator: Stephanie Torrey, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (at University of Guelph)
Status: Completed


To investigate the implications of feed restriction strategies in broiler breeder chickens.


Broiler chickens have long been selected for fast growth and high meat yield. While this selection has resulted in impressive production efficiencies in broilers, the same genetic potential for growth in breeders is in contradiction to their reproductive performance; if breeders are fed typical commercial diets ad libitum, they would quickly gain too much weight and develop problems such as lameness, ascites, and decreased reproductive capabilities. On the other hand, restricting breeders to feeding levels that promote optimum health and reproductive performance leads to chronic hunger. The industry is in need of feeding strategies that maintain productivity while improving broiler breeder welfare. One such strategy may be to dilute the diet with high fibrous fillers such as oat hulls, sugar-beet pulp, sunflower meal and wheat gluten. Another suggested strategy is to use appetite suppressants such as calcium propionate (CaP). Research at the Scottish Agricultural College suggests that diets containing oat hulls and CaP can acceptably reduce weight gains and simultaneously reduce feeding motivation and virtually eliminate object pecking without impairing reproductive performance. Dr. Torrey is testing similar strategies by feeding breeders, either on a daily or skip-a-day basis, one of three dietary treatments: a commercial quantitatively restrictive diet, a qualitatively restrictive diet (fibre-supplemented) with feed-grade CaP, and a qualitatively restrictive diet with purified CaP.


All of the alternative diets used in this study resulted in breeder body weights comparable to those obtained with commercial diets, and led to better feather condition, possibly due to less hunger-related feather pecking. The breeders were not overtly averse to supplemental fibre in their diet. Behavioural studies are ongoing to determine which feeding program the birds prefer.


Feed restriction in broiler breeders is an increasing animal welfare concern. Breeder diets containing fibre supplements and/or appetite suppressants may be a solution to improve breeder welfare while maintaining their health and reproductive performance.


$324,611 ($82,490 AAFC*, $160,080 OMAFRA (in-kind); CPRC $82,041)


*This research was part of the 2010-2013 Poultry Science Cluster which was supported by AAFC as part of Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

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