Effects of pen enrichment on leg health of fast and slower-growing broiler chickens

Guz, B.C.; Jong, I.C. de; Souza da Silva, C.; Veldkamp, F.; Kemp, B.; Molenaar, R.


Pen enrichment for broiler chickens is one of the potential strategies to stimulate locomotion and consequently contribute to better leg health and welfare. This study was designed to evaluate effects of using a plethora of pen enrichments (barrier perches, angular ramps, horizontal platforms, large distance between feed and water and providing live Black Soldier fly larvae in a dustbathing area) on tibia characteristics, locomotion, leg health and home pen behaviour of fast and slower-growing broiler chickens. The experiment was set up as a 2 x 2 factorial arrangement with a total of 840 male broiler chickens in a complete randomized design (7 pens per treatment and 30 chickens per pen) with the following treatments: 1) pen enrichment (enriched pen or non-enriched pen); 2) broiler strain (fast-growing Ross 308 or slower-growing Hubbard JA 757). Home pen behaviour and use of enrichment were observed. At approximately 1400 and 2200 g body weight, two chickens per pen were randomly selected and slaughtered, to investigate tibia morphological, biophysical and mechanical characteristics and leg health. Pen enrichment positively affected tibia biophysical characteristics, e.g., osseous volume (Δ = 1.8 cm3, P = 0.003), total volume (Δ = 1.4 cm3, P = 0.03) and volume fraction (Δ = 0.02%, P = 0.002), in both fast and slower-growing chickens, suggesting that pen enrichment particularly affects ossification and mineralization mechanisms. Accordingly, locomotion and active behaviours were positively influenced by pen enrichment. However, pen enrichment resulted in lower body weight gain in both strains, which might be due to higher activity or lower feed intake as a result of difficulties of crossing the barrier perches. Regarding the strain, slower-growing chickens showed consistently more advanced tibia characteristics and more active behaviour than fast-growing chickens. It can be concluded that pen enrichment may lead to more activity and better bone development in both fast and slower-growing chickens.