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Standard broilers compared with slow grown

Hubbard JA757 perching at four weeks old

NEW RESEARCH has sought to highlight how slower-growing breeds of chicken can have lower mortality and improved meat quality.

Independent work conducted by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) on behalf of the RSPCA recorded lower mortality, culling, better meat quality and lower use of wood shavings in trials it conducted.

The work compared conventional Cobb 500, Ross 308 and Hubbard Flex broilers with the slower-growing Hubbard JA757.

Pen reared

In total, 400 of each breed were reared from day-old in pens with about 80% more space per bird than typical UK commercial conditions (21kg/sq m). Each pen held 50 birds of the same breed, had clean friable litter provided along with food and water and a 130cm perch.

They were assessed for a range of “key welfare parameters” when they achieved the average UK slaughter weight (2.2kg) and again at 2.5kg.

The three conventional breeds all reached 2.2kg at day 35, while the slower growing bird took until day 48.

Results

The results found that, when compared with the slower-growing birds, the three fast-growing broiler breeds:

  • Were up to 7.8 times more likely to have white striping (fatty deposits) of the breast meat
  • Were up to 23 times more likely to suffer from a condition known as wooden breast – a condition where muscle cells have died
  • Were up to twice as likely to die or be culled primarily due to ill health (up to 11%)
  • Were up to 3.5 times more likely to suffer from moderate to severe lameness and require culling (up to 38%)
  • Needed approximately 67% more woodshavings to maintain the floor covering in a good condition.

Kate Parkes, chicken welfare specialist, from the RSPCA, argued that the poultry industry did not always cull birds with poor leg health, and that chicken meat with white striping or woody breast was often sold to consumers.

‘Cost artificially low’

“Therefore, the cost of ‘standard’ chicken meat is being kept artificially low due to some of these issues not being adequately addressed and, as such, the rearing of fast-growing breeds seems to be a false economy, as well as presenting a serious welfare issue.

“We are pleased the UK Government are looking to link farm support payments with better welfare and feel chicken is an area where farmers could be given financial support to move to using slower growing, higher welfare breeds,” she added.