The relationship between gait and automated recordings of individual broiler activity levels

Sluis, Malou van der; Ellen, Esther D.; Klerk, Britt de; Rodenburg, T.B.; Haas, Yvette de


Gait, or walking ability, is an often-measured trait in broilers. Individual gait scores are generally determined manually, which can be time-consuming and subjective. Automated methods of scoring gait are available, but are often implemented at the group level. However, there is an interest in automated methods of scoring gait at the individual level. We hypothesized that locomotor activity could serve as a proxy for gait of individual broilers. Locomotor activity of 137 group-housed broilers from four crosses was recorded from approximately 16 to 32 days old, using an ultra-wideband tracking system. These birds were divided over four trials. Individual gait scores were determined at the end of the tracking period, on a scale from 0 to 5, with higher scores representing worse gait. Given the limited number of birds, birds were subsequently categorized as having a good gait (GG; scores 0–2) or a suboptimal gait (SG; scores 3–5). Relationships between activity and gait classification were studied to determine whether individual activity has the potential to serve as a proxy for gait. When comparing GG and SG birds using robust linear regression, SG birds showed a lower 1) activity around the start of tracking (estimate = −1.33 ± 0.56, P = 0.019), 2) activity near the end of tracking (estimate = −1.63 ± 0.38, P < 0.001), and 3) average activity (estimate = −1.12 ± 0.41, P = 0.007). When taking day of tracking, trial, cross and body weight category (heavy versus light at approximately 2 wk old) into account, a tendency was still observed for SG birds having lower activity levels within lightweight birds, but not within heavyweight birds. This study provides indications for activity differences between gait classifications. However, given that there was considerable overlap in activity levels between the gait classifications, future research implementing additional activity-related variables is required to allow a more complete distinction between birds with different gait classifications.