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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Associations between neck plumage and beak darkness, as well as comb size measurements and scores with ranging frequency of Sasso and Green-legged Partridge chickens

Sztandarski, Patryk; Marchewka, Joanna; Wojciechowski, Franciszek; Riber, Anja B.; Gunnarsson, Stefan; Horbanczuk, Jarosaw Olav

Abstract

Despite the intensive genetic selection in modern poultry, variability of domestic fowl phenotypes has remained, especially in breeds adapted to local conditions. The relevance of this variability to the chicken outdoor ranging activities remains unknown. The aim of this study was to investigate if external features were associated with the ranging frequency of the 48 female chickens from each of the 2 breeds: Sasso and Green -legged Partridge. In each of 6 single-breed pens, 8 hens and 2 roosters were housed under conditions of EU requirements for organic meat chicken production, including free access to an outdoor range, from wk 5 to 10 of age. The birds were video-recorded during the experiment to obtain frequencies of individual birds' use of the ranges. Comb size (length and height) was measured using a digital ruler, while the sizes of the dark area of neck plumage and beak were processed and analyzed using ImageJ software. The same traits were scored using direct visual assessment by a trained observer on a scale of 1-3. In addition, the eye color of the bird was recorded. Statistical analysis was conducted independently for each breed using regression models, ANOVAs and Spearman correlations. Significant positive associations between neck plumage (P < 0.01), beak darkness (P = 0.03) measurements, comb length (P < 0.01) and comb height (P < 0.01) and frequency of range use were identified for Sasso. Sasso hens scored with darkest neck plumage (P = 0.03) and biggest comb size (P = 0.04) ranged the most, while their external features were significantly and positively correlated between each other, except beak darkness and comb length. No significant associations between ranging and external features were found in Green-legged Partridge birds, except that their comb height was significantly and positively correlated with neck plumage and beak darkness (r = 0.39 and 0.33, respectively). In some genetic strains, better understanding of the associations between chickens' external features with ranging behavior could contribute to improve selection programs and bird welfare, assuring production of breeding stock suitable for outdoor conditions.

Keywords

external traits; organic; phenotype; broiler; ranging behavior

Published in

Poultry Science
2021, Volume: 100, number: 9, article number: 101340Publisher: ELSEVIER