Effects of free-range access on production parameters and meat quality, composition and taste in slow-growing broiler chickens

Lisanne M. Stadig, Bas Rodenburg, Bert Reubens, Johan Aerts, Barbara Duquenne, Frank A.M. Tuyttens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Demand for meat from free-range broiler chickens is increasing in several countries. Consumers are motivated by better animal welfare and other product attributes such as quality and taste. However, scientific literature is not unanimous about whether free-range access influences quality, composition, and taste of the meat. Because chickens normally do not use free-range areas optimally, it is possible that provision of more suitable shelter will lead to more pronounced differences between chickens raised indoors and outdoors. In this study, an experiment with 2 production rounds of 600 slow-growing broilers each was performed. In each round, 200 chickens were raised indoors (IN), 200 had free-range access to grassland with artificial shelter (AS), and 200 had free-range access to short-rotation coppice with willow (SRC). Free-range use, feed intake, and growth were monitored, and after slaughter (d72) meat quality, composition, and taste were assessed. Free-range use was higher in SRC than in AS chickens (42.8 vs. 35.1%, P < 0.001). IN chickens were heavier at d70 than AS and SRC chickens (2.79 vs. 2.66 and 2.68 kg, P = 0.005). However, feed intake and conversion did not differ. Breast meat of chickens with free-range access was darker (P = 0.021) and yellower (P = 0.001) than that of IN chickens. Ultimate pH was lower (5.73 vs. 5.79; P = 0.006) and drip loss higher (1.29 vs. 1.09%; P = 0.05) in IN versus AS chickens. The percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids was higher in AS than in IN meat (35.84 vs. 34.59%; P = 0.021). The taste panel judged breast meat of SRC chickens to be more tender (P = 0.003) and less fibrous (P = 0.013) compared to that of AS and IN chickens, and juicier compared to the IN chickens (P = 0.017). Overall, free-range access negatively affected slaughter weight, but positively affected meat quality, taste, and composition. Only a few differences between AS and SRC were found, possibly due to limited differences in free-range use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2971-2978
JournalPoultry Science
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Body weight
  • fatty acid profile
  • meat color
  • short rotation coppice
  • taste

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