Associations among gait score, production data, abattoir registrations, and postmortem tibia measurements in broiler chickens
Lameness and impaired walking ability in rapidly growing meat-type broiler chickens are major welfare issues that cause economic losses. This study analyzed the prevalence of impaired walking and its associations with production data, abattoir registrations, and postmortem tibia measurements in Norwegian broiler chickens. Gait score (GS) was used to assess walking ability in 59 different commercial broiler flocks (Ross 308) close to the slaughter d, 5,900 broilers in total, in 3 different geographical regions. In each flock, 100 arbitrary broilers were gait scored and 10 random broilers were culled to harvest tibias. Abattoir registrations on flock level were collected after slaughter. A total of 24.6% of the broilers had moderate to severe gait impairment. The broilers were sampled in 2 stages, first slaughterhouse/region, and then owner/flock. The final models showed that impaired gait is associated with first-week mortality (P < 0.05), region (P < 0.001), height of tibias mid-shaft (P < 0.05), and calcium content in the tibia ash (P < 0.05), and negatively associated with DOA (P < 0.05). The prevalence of impaired gait indicates that this is a common problem in the broiler industry in Norway, although the mean slaughter age is only 31 d and the maximum allowed animal density is relatively low. Impaired walking ability could not be predicted by the welfare indicators footpad lesion score, total on-farm mortality, and decreasing DOA prevalence. Further studies are needed to explore the relationship between first-week mortality and gait score.