Assessment of the behaviour of slower-growing broiler breeds raised indoors through comparative analysis with a commercial slower-growing breed

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Recently, broiler welfare concerns have accelerated demand for slower-growing broiler breeds. However, there is limited knowledge on the welfare and behaviour of slower-growing broiler breeds used in the poultry meat industry. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine behaviour of three less common slower-growing commercial breeds (JACY-757 (B), JA-787 (C), and TP-6 (D)) in comparison to a commonly used, commercially available slower-growing breed (Control: Hubbard JA-757 (A)). The study was conducted at SRUC’S Avian Science and Innovation Centre in Edinburgh, United Kingdom (UK) based on the RSPCA Broiler Breed Welfare Assessment Protocol. Each breed consisting of 400 birds was distributed in 8 pens (50 birds/pen) and each pen video recorded for 24 hours once a week. For every hour, scan samples were conducted over a 10 s time period to get behavioural time budgets for the birds from 3 to 6 weeks of age. Results from the study showed that there was a significant effect of replicate, with more birds observed to sit (P<001), stand (P=0.002), locomote (P=0.002), and dustbathe (P<0.001) in replicate 2 than in replicate 1. In contrast, perching behaviour (P<0.001) was higher in replicate 1 than in replicate 2. No significant differences in drinking, foraging, and dustbathing (P>0.050) were found among the breeds. Breeds C and D tend to spend higher proportions of time feeding and less time active as they sit more, and stand, locomote, 23 perch, and preen less than the other breeds. Breed B showed similar behaviour patterns to the control, as they sit, stand, locomote, perch, and preen more but feed less than breeds C and D. In all the breeds, there was a significant effect of age on behaviour with sitting (P<0.001) and preening (P=0.028) increasing, and active behaviours decreasing (feeding, drinking, standing, foraging, locomotion, perching, and dustbathing (P<0.001 for all)). In conclusion, breed and age were found to be important determinant factors in impacting the behaviour and welfare of birds. Based on behavioural patterns, breed B seems to have the best state of welfare (and was most similar to the commonly used breed A), and breeds C and D with the worst welfare. Therefore, breed B could be used under a higher welfare brand.