Two New Chicken Papers From Our Research!

We have just published two linked papers (previously posted here as preprints) on broiler chicken anatomy and physiology/biomechanics, with a focus on changes across ontogeny (development), which can be downloaded from the FREE, open access online journal PeerJ We welcome your input on those papers here or in the site’s comments section. Abstracts etc. below:

Paper 1:
Anatomical and biomechanical traits of broiler chickens across ontogeny. Part I. Anatomy of the musculoskeletal respiratory apparatus and changes in organ size.

Genetic selection for improved meat yields, digestive efficiency and growth rates have transformed the biology of broiler chickens. Modern birds undergo a 50-fold multiplication in body mass in just six weeks, from hatching to slaughter weight. However, this selection for rapid growth and improvements in broiler productivity is also widely thought to be associated with increased welfare problems as many birds suffer from leg, circulatory and respiratory diseases. To understand growth-related changes in musculoskeletal and organ morphology and respiratory skeletal development over the standard six-week rearing period, we present data from post-hatch cadaveric commercial broiler chickens aged 0, 2, 4 and 6 weeks. The heart, lungs and intestines decreased in size for hatch to slaughter weight when considered as a proportion of body mass. Proportional liver size increased in the two weeks after hatch but decreased between 2 and 6 weeks. Breast muscle mass on the other hand displayed strong positive allometry, increasing in mass faster than the increase in body mass. Contrastingly, less rapid isometric growth was found in the external oblique muscle, a major respiratory muscle that moves the sternum dorsally during expiration. Considered together with the relatively slow ossification of elements of the respiratory skeleton, it seems that rapid growth of the breast muscles might compromise the efficacy of the respiratory apparatus. Furthermore, the relative reduction in size of the major organs indicates that selective breeding in meat-producing birds has unintended consequences that may bias these birds toward compromised welfare and could limit further improvements in meat-production and feed efficiency.


Paper 2:
Anatomical and biomechanical traits of broiler chickens across ontogeny. Part II. Body segment inertial properties and muscle architecture of the pelvic limb.

In broiler chickens, genetic success for desired production traits is often shadowed by welfare concerns related to musculoskeletal health. Whilst these concerns are clear, a viable solution is still elusive. Part of the solution lies in knowing how anatomical changes in afflicted body systems that occur across ontogeny influence standing and moving. Here, to demonstrate these changes we quantify the segment inertial properties of the whole body, trunk (legs removed) and the right pelvic limb segments of five broilers at three different age groups across development. We also consider how muscle architecture (mass, fascicle length and other properties related to mechanics) changes for selected muscles of the pelvic limb. All broilers used had no observed lameness, but we document the limb pathologies identified post mortem, since these two factors do not always correlate, as shown here. The most common leg disorders, including bacterial chondronecrosis with osteomyelitis and rotational and angular deformities of the lower limb, were observed in chickens at all developmental stages. Whole limb morphology is not uniform relative to body size, with broilers obtaining large thighs and feet between four and six weeks of age. This implies that the energetic cost of swinging the limbs is markedly increased across this growth period, perhaps contributing to reduced activity levels. Hindlimb bone length does not change during this period, which may be advantageous for increased stability despite the increased energetic costs. Increased pectoral muscle growth appears to move the centre of mass cranio-dorsally in the last two weeks of growth. This has direct consequences for locomotion (potentially greater limb muscle stresses during standing and moving). Our study is the first to measure these changes in the musculoskeletal system across growth in chickens, and reveals how artificially selected changes of the morphology of the pectoral apparatus may cause deficits in locomotion.


Two images of broiler chickens from the papers: Left, the post-hatching development of the ribcage; Right, a biomechanical model of limb mechanics.

Two images of broiler chickens from the papers: Left, the post-hatching development of the ribcage; Right, a biomechanical model of limb mechanics.

Cluck away!