The Quest for Welfare-Friendly Feeding of Broiler Breeders: Effects of Daily vs. 5:2 Feed Restriction Schedules
Restricted feeding of broiler breeders is required for improved long-term health and welfare. Because feeding frustration and hunger are major welfare concerns during rearing, many suggestions have been made to decrease the negative feelings of hunger while maintaining suitable growth rates and reproductive health. Non-daily (“skip-a-day”) feeding schedules are commonly used around the world to increase portion sizes at meal times while restricting intake but these practices are prohibited in many countries due to welfare concerns on fasting days. We compared birds raised on a non-daily feeding schedule (2 non-consecutive fasting days per week, 5:2), previously suggested as a welfare-friendlier non-daily alternative, to birds raised on daily feed restriction. We found signs of increased physiological stress levels in 5:2 birds, including elevated heterophil to lymphocyte ratios (1.00 for 5:2 vs. 0.75 for daily fed at 12 weeks of age), increased adiposity (0.21% lean body weight [LBW] for 5:2 vs. 0.13% LBW for daily fed), and reduced muscle growth (pectoral muscle 5.94% LBW for 5:2 vs. 6.52% LBW for daily fed). At the same time, 5:2 birds showed signs of lower anxiety before feeding times (activity was reduced from 10.30 in daily fed to 4.85) which may be a result of the lower feed competition associated with larger portion sizes. Although we found no difference in latency to first head movement in tonic immobility between the treatments (136.5 s on average for both groups), 5:2 birds generally showed more interest in a novel object in the home pen which indicated increased risk taking and reduced fear while fasting. The 5:2 birds in this study showed no signs of learning the feeding schedule, and this unpredictability may also increase stress. Taken together, the effects of 5:2 vs. daily feed restriction on the welfare of broiler breeder pullets remain inconclusive and differ between feeding and fasting days. In addition to reducing stress by minimizing the number of fasting days, we suggest that a shift to more predictable schedules may help improve the welfare of broiler breeder pullets.