Exposure of laying hens to chronic heat stress results in loss of egg production. It should be possible to improve hen resilience to chronic heat stress by genetic selection but measuring their sensitivity through internal temperature is time consuming and is not very precise. In this study we used infrared thermography to measure the hen’s capacity to dissipate heat, in a commercial line of laying hens subjected to cycles of neutral (N, 19.6°C) or high (H, 28.4°C) ambient temperatures. Mean body temperatures (BT) were estimated from 9355 infrared images of wing, comb and shank taken from 1200 hens. Genetic parameters were estimated separately for N and H temperatures. Correlations between BT and plumage condition were also investigated. Wing temperature had low heritability (0.00 to 0.09), consistent with the fact that wing temperature mainly reflects the environmental temperature and is not a zone of heat dissipation. The heritability of comb temperature was higher, from 0.15 to 0.19 in N and H conditions, respectively. Finally, the shank temperature provided the highest heritability estimates, with values of 0.20 to 0.22 in H and N conditions, respectively. Taken together, these results show that heat dissipation is partly under genetic control. Interestingly, the genetic correlation between plumage condition and shank and comb temperatures indicated that birds with poor condition plumage also had the possibility to dissipate heat through featherless areas. Genetic correlations of temperature measurements with egg quality showed that temperatures were correlated with egg width and weight, yolk brightness and yellowness and Haugh units only under H conditions. In contrast, shell colour was correlated with leg temperature only at thermo-neutrality.
- egg quality
- genotype–environment interaction
- heat stress
- laying hens