Fast-growing broilers are relatively inactive and this is thought to be a result of selection for high growth rates. This reduced activity level is considered a major cause of leg weakness and associated leg health problems. Increased activity, especially early in life, is suggested to have positive effects on leg health, but the relationship between early activity and growth is unclear. A clearer understanding of the relationship between activity early in life and body weight gain could help determine how selecting on increased early activity could affect body weight gain in broilers. Here, a radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking system was implemented to record daily individual broiler activity throughout life, in 5 production rounds. As mean activity levels alone do not capture the variation in activity over time, multiple (dynamic) descriptors of activity were determined based on the individual birds’ daily distances moved, focusing on the period from 0 to 15 days old. The mean, skewness, root mean square error (RMSE), autocorrelation, and entropy of (deviations in) activity were determined at the individual level, as well as the average daily gain (ADG). Relationships between activity descriptors and ADG were determined for 318 birds. Both when combining the data from the different production rounds and when taking production round and start weight into account, a negative relationship between ADG and RMSE was observed, indicating that birds that were more variable in their activity levels had a lower ADG. However, the activity descriptors, in combination with recording round and start weight, explained only a small part (8%) of the variation in ADG. Therefore, it is recommended for future research to also record other factors affecting ADG (e.g., type of feed provided and feed intake) and to model growth curves. Overall, this study suggests that increasing early activity does not necessarily negatively affect body weight gain. This could contribute to improved broiler health and welfare if selecting for increased activity has the expected positive effects on leg health.
- body weight