2014 - 2016

Improving foot pad quality in commercial broilers: benchmarking and practical strategies

Principal Investigator: Clover Bench, University of Alberta
Co-investigator: Doug Korver, University of Alberta; Trever Crowe, University of Saskatchewan
Status: Completed


The objective of this project is three-fold
  1. to determine which in-barn moisture management strategies and philosophies yield the highest quality broiler foot pads
  2. evaluate on-farm foot pad assessment techniques compared with those used at large processing plants
  3. cultivate stronger communication linkages between producers, researchers and processors regarding matters that are important to all levels of the poultry production chain


Foot pad dermatitis is associated with poor litter conditions (e.g. high moisture and ammonia) in poultry barns using a bedding system.  Broiler foot pad dermatitis first presents around 19d, and tends to become worse as body weight and foot-to-litter contact increases.  The development of foot pad dermatitis is considered an animal care concern at the farm level (e.g. adversely affecting health, growth and well-being) with implications for foot pad quality at the processor level (e.g. ability to market product). Foot pad quality tends to decrease during the winter months as barn moisture levels increase.  Most studies investigating foot pad quality have concentrated on stocking density and have taken place under European conditions or in the humid southern regions of the United States.  Canadian prairie climate differs significantly from Europe and the southern United States, and bedding materials which are practically available in Alberta differ from those abroad.  Therefore, both climate and bedding materials are potential factors which contribute to higher litter moisture levels in the Alberta region. Canada’s livestock industry is placing greater emphasis on on-farm assessment of animal well-being.  However, multiple foot pad scoring systems have been developed by poultry researchers and broiler processors for tracking and assessing foot pad quality.  Thus, it is difficult to determine whether different scoring methods correlate with, and which factors on-farm contribute to improved foot pad quality on the commercial processing line. This research will involve on-farm visits during which grow-out environment and foot pad quality are assessed during the summer and winter for multiple broiler producers and flocks throughout Alberta.  This research will also focus on the utility and accuracy of various foot pad scoring methods to determine which provide the most useful data. Investigating the complex interplay of factors on-farm that improves or decreases foot pad quality in commercial broilers will expedite the flow of scientific information that will enable Alberta’s chicken industry to enhance broiler welfare while maintaining high broiler performance levels.


$113,046 (AAFC/CPRC $76,988*, Lillydale Inc. $8,768 (in-kind), Alberta Chicken Producers $27,290 ($8,0000 in-kind))


*This research was part of the Poultry Science Cluster 2 which was supported by AAFC as part of Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

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