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Research: Selective breeding reduces mortality by two-thirds

Feather picking is a reoccurring problem that affects farms with a large number of animals. Beak trimming is becoming less accepted by the public so alternatives are being sought to reduce aggressive behaviour among chickens. Selective breeding is one of them.

Piter Bijma is researcher at the Breeding and Genetics Group from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. About four years ago, Bijma started a project – together with postdoc Esther Ellen – that involved 1,000 layers in cages that were beak trimmed. He showed that the mortality among these white Leghorn layers was around 30%, due to aggressive picking. However, the researchers noticed that mortality numbers differed per cage.

Bijma and Ellen therefore selected the chickens in the cages that had the lowest mortality figures and used these animals for further breeding. With the second generation “social chickens” produced, the mortality rate was dropped to 33%. After the third selection round, the numbers even dropped to 18 and 12%. "These figures come close to the figures of beak trimmed layers, were the normal mortality rate is around 10%" Bijma explained.

The Dutch researchers want to further fine-tune the breeding programme to come closer to the 10%. They plan to breed another two generations of layers to see if this is possible. Bijma carries out the studies together with breeding organisation Hendrix Genetics. The commercial breeding company is very optimistic about the results and sees commercial opportunities for this type of selection programmes.

Source: Wageningen UR

Editor WorldPoultry

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    Agonistic behaviour ,a qualitative trait controlled by major genes is moderate-highly heritable and hence comparatively easy to control and bring down. But, it should be remembered to assess its genetic association with impt. quantitative productive traits before embarking on this type of venture in breeding because of the fear of economics of possible decline in production,especially in layer lines. Beak trimming will therefore be of a lesser option in lines with good genetic association with impt. economic productive traits. Moreover, nutrition has its influence on beak growth and many genetic deformities are also associated with beak growth.

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