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Incubation temperature profiles affect broiler feathering

Feathers affect thermoregulation and protect skin from litter contact and scratches from other broilers. Earlier research has indicated that breeder feed restriction programmes and incubation may affect integumentary tissue development in broiler progeny.

In an experiment at NC State University, the number of feather follicles (FF) was counted to determine possible carryover effects of breeder feed restriction programmes and incubation temperatures on feather density of progeny at 22 days of age.

Cobb 500 fast feathering breeders were subjected to two dietary feed restriction programmes during rearing: skip a day (SAD) and every day feeding (EDF). Eggs from each group were collected at 60 weeks and randomly divided and incubated according to two incubation temperature profiles: standard (S) eggshell temperature (38.1°C) and early-low late-high (LH).

This second profile had a low (36.9°C) eggshell temperature during the first three days and standard temperature until the last three days when eggs endured elevated (38.9°C) eggshell temperature. Seventy two chicks per treatment were randomly selected, placed in 48 cages (6/cage) and raised to 22 days. Body weights were recorded and two chickens per cage were sampled for skin in breast, dorsum and thigh areas.

Results indicated an interaction effect on FF numbers in the dorsum area. Progeny from breeders under SAD had more FF when incubated under LH conditions. No effect of incubation was observed on progeny of EDF. The LH incubation also increased FF in the thigh independently of breeder treatment.

In the breast area, chickens incubated under standard conditions (S) had more FF than those from LH treatment independently of breeder treatment.

These findings may be applied to minimise carcass scratches and improve broiler welfare. It was concluded that incubation temperature affects feathering development, and this effect may be stronger in progeny from breeders fed restricted under SAD programmes.

Source: Jenna Scott, Manuel J. Da Costa, Edgar O. Oviedo-Rondón
Prestage Department of Poultry Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA
Proceedings of the 2014 International Poultry Scientific Forum, Atlanta, GA, USA

Allison Winstanley

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