Susceptibility to keel bone fractures in laying hens and the role of genetic variation
Keel bone fractures are a well-known welfare problem in modern commercial laying hen systems. The present study sought to identify genetic variation in relation to keel bone fracture susceptibility of 4 distinct crossbred and one pure line, and by extension, possible breeding traits. Susceptibility to fractures were assessed using an ex vivo impact testing protocol in combination with a study design that minimized environmental variation to focus on genetic differences. The 5 crossbred/pure lines differed in their susceptibility to keel bone fractures with the greatest likelihood of fracture in one of the 3 commercial lines and the lowest susceptibility to fractures in one of the experimental lines. Egg production at the hen-level did not differ between the crossbred/pure lines (P > 0.05), though an increased susceptibility to keel bone fractures was associated with thinner eggshells and reduced egg breaking strength, a pattern consistent among all tested crossbred/pure lines. Our findings suggest an association between egg quality and bone strength which appeared to be independent of crossbred/pure line. The findings indicate the benefit of the impact methodology to identify potential breeding characteristics to reduce incidence of keel fracture as well as the potential relationship with eggshell quality.