Practical assessment and management of foot pad dermatitis in commercial broiler chickens: A Field Study

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Abstract

SUMMARY

Foot pad dermatitis (FPD) is a welfare concern in broiler chickens characterized by ulcerated lesions on the pad of the foot, which results from prolonged contact of foot pads with wet litter. During Canadian prairie winters, barn moisture levels tend to increase due to reduced ventilation as a means of conserving heat and minimizing costs. However, there are no published benchmarks regarding the prevalence of foot pad dermatitis in broilers reared in western Canadian provinces such as Alberta, Canada. As such the objectives of the current study were to evaluate practical means of assessing FPD in Alberta broilers as well as on-farm management practices which correlate with higher prevalence of foot pad dermatitis. A management-practices survey and 3 foot pad assessment methods were used to benchmark foot pad dermatitis in 32 broiler flocks throughout the province of Alberta. Four flocks per farm were sampled from a total of 8 commercial broiler farms. Per flock, 200 birds were assessed on-farm, 3 processor-line scores were taken at the processing plant, and 600 foot pad samples were assessed post-processing. The prevalence of foot pad dermatitis by assessment method was benchmarked on a per-flock basis at 28.65% on-farm, 26.17% on the processing line (processor-line), and 31.83% for samples taken off the processing line (processor-sampled). On-farm and processor-sampled assessment results were highly correlated (r = 0.90) compared with processor-line and on-farm (r = 0.77) and processor-line and processor-sampled results (r = 0.72; P < 0.001). Specifically, processor-line assessments were not found to be reliable when repeated (P > 0.10). On farm, wheat straw was used by the majority of Alberta's producers (62.5%) and was associated with a higher prevalence of foot pad dermatitis per flock (40.6%). In contrast, pine shavings was associated with lower FPD prevalence (6.4%; P < 0.001), but was used by only 21.9% of producers in Alberta. Primary results from this field study support the use of on-farm FPD assessments rather than processor-line-based assessments, and a shift away from wheat straw as a broiler litter substrate.

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