Slaughter performance and meat quality of Milanino chickens reared according to a specific free-range program
The study aimed to characterize meat quality traits of Milanino chickens reared according to a specific free-range farming program. A total of 120 birds was reared straight-run in outdoor pens (8 m2/bird) from 35 d of life and fed ad libitum a low (16%) protein diet. At 180 d of age, 20 birds (10 birds/sex) were slaughtered, and carcass weight data were recorded. After processing, carcasses were refrigerated at 4°C for 24 hours. Then, the right breast and thigh with skin were collected and color parameters, pH, water-holding capacity (WHC), and chemical composition were determined. The left breast and thigh were stored at −20°C until cooking loss and tenderness evaluation. Milanino was confirmed to be a heavy breed with a sexual dimorphism in relation to adult body weight. A high general carcass yield was recorded. Milanino meat was characterized by high protein and low fat contents compared with the standard broiler meat. Differences in meat composition were recorded according to the sex: females presented higher values of dry matter (breast and thigh), protein (breast), and fat (breast and thigh) contents. The meat with skin presented an intense luminosity, and this trait was higher in the females. The muscle color was characterized by high redness and yellowness indices with differences according to the sex: Higher yellowness index was observed in female carcasses, while higher redness index was detected in male breast samples. The pH muscle values were similar to those reported in other autochthonous breeds. WHC values did not show variation between sexes. In contrast, cooking loss values recorded in thigh samples were lower in males compared to females. The degree of tenderness of Milanino meat was not affected by the sex. However, the potential loss of water and the toughness in Milanino meat were low compared to other local chicken breed meat. The present results support the breeding of Milanino chickens for meat production according to its specific straight-run free-range system.