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Will genetics solve the wooden breast problem?

White striping and wooden breast problems are one of the latest challenges the poultry sector is facing. At the 4th Feet to Meat symposium sponsored by Zinpro Corporation, Professor Massimiliano Petracci presented the latest findings and posed the question whether it was a problem for genetics to solve.

With genetic advances in growth rates and breast meat yields, the prevalence of abnormalities in breast muscles have increased, meaning that downgrades have become commonplace in poultry processing.

Staggering increase in severe white striping

White striping is a condition in broilers which is characterised by the occurrence of white striations seen parallel to the direction of the muscle fibres of both breasts and thighs, Professor Petracci, of the University of Bologna explained. He showed that the incidence of white striping in Italy over the last 3 years had increased from severe white striping being in 3.1% of a test flock in 2012 to a staggering 40.2% in 2014.

Similarly, wooden breast, a condition affecting the pectoralis major muscle and is characterised by macroscopically visible hard and pale areas in the caudal part of the fillet, has also seen a rise in Italy. An increase in the most severe cases of wooden breast has been observed in heavy-size birds, Petracci explained, pointing out the correlation between the 2.

Will genetics solve the wooden breast problem?
[Photo: Zinpro/Wiebe van der Sluis]

Increased growth rates in broilers

These abnormalities have materialised as a result of increased growth rates in birds due to advances in genetics which have seen the time it takes to raise a fully grown bird reduce dramatically which has put more pressure on the birds.

"White striping and wooden breast are strongly associated with each other, although wooden breast occurs at a later stage. However, the incidence of both defects remarkably follows the increase in breast weight," Petracci pointed out.

A further concern which Petracci highlighted was spaghetti meat, an abnormality described as loose structure of pectoralis major muscles which allow the fibre bundles to be pulled away with just a moderate amount of pressure.

Strategies to reduce chicken breast abnormalities

"As far as I know, the only way to reduce the incidence of wooden breast is to reduce the growth rate of the birds," Petracci warned, for example by reducing dietary lysine level or adopting feed restrictions.

"Effective strategies to mitigate the breast abnormalities occurrence seem to be: reducing the use of high-breast yielding hybrids, modulating growth rate (through dietary means) and avoiding high slaughter weights," Petracci said, while concluding that the other solution is to wait for geneticists to solve the problem.

The wooden breast concern has also been addressed in the US with investments being made to understand and remedy the abnormality. The National Chicken Council recently announced funding of more than a quarter of a million dollars on 4 separate research projects at independent universities and USDA's Agriculture Research Service to understand the root cause of this muscle condition.

"White striping and wooden breast are strongly associated with each other, although wooden breast occurs at a later stage. However, the incidence of both defects remarkably follows the increase in breast weight," Petracci pointed out.

The few feeding the many

A tribute to the "staggering accomplishment of agriculture" is how Zinpro vice president of sales,  Max Winders, opened the Feet to Meat symposium. Invited speakers and participants from all over the world gathered in Amsterdam for Zinpro's 4th International poultry summit and heard how breakthroughs driven by agriculture saved humanity from starvation in the past and will continue to do so as the industry prepares to face increasing challenges of feeding a growing population.

During the 3 day event, which focused on broiler breeders on the 1st day, meat quality and processing on the 2nd and broilers on the 3rd, over 200 participants heard from 18 invited speakers and participated in engaging, interactive workshops.


  • gubbi lokanath

    Should be possible to reduce the incidence through nutritional management, since genetic control is only moderate. Since wooden breast and white striping are positively related, stringent selection against any one trait with a higher degree of heritability should result in bringing out desirable changes in the other associated trait. The role of natural selection too should be kept in mind for this trend.

  • Tessa Baxter

    The Gravis broiler developed in South Africa for over 35 years does not appear to have the problem of wooden breast and white striping, while managing to compete on a weight and FCR basis . The bird has ample breast meat but not excessive. Our policy is to breed with nature and not against. The Gravis breeder is made up of four homozygous strains produced in open houses.

  • gubbi lokanath

    Would like to communicate with Tessa Baxter if the e-mail addresses is furnished for healthy interactions on the genetic background,pl.

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