Radiography could transform poultry breeding

Year Awarded  2018

FFAR award amount   $486,594

Total award amount   $973,188

Location   Edinburgh, UK

Matching Funders   Open Philanthropy

  • Advanced Animal Systems

Red chickens from the neck up standing in a row within a commercial livestock setting

Imaging procedure to measure bone quality in live birds provides a reliable, efficient way to inform selection of laying hens

According to a University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute study funded by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 45-second digital X-ray procedure is a fast, safe and reliable method of analyzing bone density in live hens, which are at risk of fractures from biological changes linked with laying eggs. The study published in the Journal British Poultry Science, could help poultry producers optimize bird selection to improve bone strength and reduce fracturing.

Headshot of Ian Dunn, Ph.D. with keel bone X-rays in the background
Ian Dunn, Ph.D., with keel bone X-rays in the background

Details About This Breakthrough

Previous research by the same team showed that leg bone density is genetically related to that of the keel bone and to fracture risk. Advances in digital X-ray technology have enabled researchers to quickly capture digital X-rays of live hens, from which leg bone density can be calculated and keel bone density accurately inferred. The procedure, which takes about 45 seconds, offers a fast, practical alternative to conventional imaging techniques such as Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry, Digitized Fluoroscopy and CT scans. This procedure is an efficient on-farm way to inform the selection of breeding laying hens with strong bones.

For many decades, poultry breeders have chosen which birds to breed according to a mix of many factors, but it has not been possible to account for bone quality in live hens, and a practical method of measuring bone quality in hens has been unavailable. Our method represents a major development to aid selection towards improving bone strength, and health and welfare, in laying hens. Professor Ian Dunn
Personal chair of avian biology, Roslin Institute

Why This Research Is Important

Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates of the number of hens needed to meet existing cage-free pledges, including pledges by all top 25 U.S. grocers, this research has the potential to improve the welfare and productivity of approximately 225 million hens by 2025. This research could also help reduce the number of animals needed to research nutritional and management aids for improved bone health.

See More Research Breakthroughs