Growth heterogeneity in broiler breeder pullets is settled before the onset of feed restriction but is not predicted by size at hatch

C. Lindholm*, J. Jönsson, A. Calais, A. Middelkoop, N. Yngwe, E. Berndtson, J.J. Lees, E. Hult, J. Altimiras

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Uniform growth is a desirable trait in all large-scale animal production systems because it simplifies animal management and increases profitability. In parental broiler flocks, so-called broiler breeders, low growth uniformity is largely attributed to the feed competition that arises from quantitatively restricted feeding. As feed restriction is crucial to maintaining healthy and fertile breeders, several practices for reducing feed competition and the associated growth heterogeneity have been suggested and range from nutrient dilution by increasing fiber content in feed to intermittent fasting with increased portion size (“skip a day”), but no practice appears to be entirely effective. The fact that a large part of the heterogeneity remains even when feed competition is minimized suggests that some growth variation is caused by other factors. We investigated whether this variation arises during embryonic development (as measured by size at hatch) or during posthatch development by following the growth and body composition of birds of varying hatch sizes. Our results support the posthatch alternative, with animals that later grow to be small or large (here defined as >1 SD lighter or heavier than mean BW of the flock) being significantly different in size as early as 1 d after gaining access to feed (P < 0.05). We then investigated 2 possible causes for different postnatal growth: that high growth performance is linked 1) to interindividual variations in metabolism (as measured by cloacal temperature and verified by respirometry) or 2) to higher levels of social motivation (as measured in a social reinstatement T-maze), which should reduce the stress of being reared in large-scale commercial flocks. Neither of these follow-up hypotheses could account for the observed heterogeneity in growth. We suggest that the basis of growth heterogeneity in broiler breeder pullets may already be determined at the time of hatch in the form of qualitatively different maternal investments or immediately thereafter as an indirect result of differences in incubation conditions, hatching time, and resulting fasting time. Although this potential difference in maternal investment is not seen in body mass, tarsometatarsal length, or full body length of day-old chicks arriving at the farm, it may influence the development of differential feed and water intake during the first day of feeding, which in turn has direct effects on growth heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-193
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Broiler breeders
  • Feed restriction
  • Growth uniformity
  • Ontogenetic growth
  • Poultry
  • Resource allocation

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