a1 Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Kasteelpark Arenberg 30, Leuven, B-3001, Belgium;
a2 Roslin Institute (Edinburgh), Roslin, Midlothian EHS25 9PS, United Kingdom;
a3 Hubbard, Le Foeil, BP 159, 22800 Quintin, France;
a4 Station de Recherches Avicoles, INRA SRA, 37380 Nouzilly, France
A first product of this European project was a tool for scoring chick quality. A link was established between chick quality and embryonic physiological parameters such as heat production. Eggs from broiler breeders that give rise to rapidly growing broilers have a different embryonic development that may need modified incubation conditions. Within genotypes, better chick quality induces better liveability and faster growth in broiler production. Extensive data on broiler breeder production were generated. Feed restriction was necessary to maintain welfare and reproduction at acceptable levels in standard broiler breeders. The dw-experimental genotype (E) was more tolerant to ad libitum feeding. If an alternative to feed restriction had to be found, the use of a dw genotype with less severe feed restriction could be adopted. Fibre per se, or partial feed restriction during the growing period, only compensated to a small extent for the negative effects of early fast growth on later reproduction. The results of the project on behaviour did not support welfare concerns on feed restriction. They confirmed the hypothesis that environmental pecking is a displacement activity rather than a sign of frustration. Factors other than central control by pituitary hormones seem to be involved in the modulation of the laying rate. The local (intra-ovarian) role of growth factors such as Insulin-like Growth Factors (IGFs), Bone Morphogenetic Proteins (BMPs) and leptin are known to modulate the effect of gonadotrophins on ovarian function. For both BMPs and IGFs, feed restriction enhanced the interaction between growth factors and gonadotrophins as well as the proliferation of granulosa cells in vitro. Future genetic selection of broiler breeder production might aim at uncoupling the control of growth factors in the ovary from the selection for rapid growth to maintain or increase the growth rate of chicks without further penalising the already poor reproductive performance of broiler breeders. Putative quantitative trait loci for ovulation rate were identified in the project and may eventually facilitate selection by breeding companies for birds that could be fed enough feed to optimise their welfare.
(Received November 01 2005)
(Accepted January 30 2006)