Genetic variation in body size, composition, temperature, and feed intake in mature chickens

Paul M Hocking, J S Gavora, J R Chambers, A Fortin

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Genetic variation for more than 40 traits was assessed in 26 stocks of mature chickens reared together and fed ad libitum from hatching to slaughter at 507 days of age. There was greater genetic variation among males than among females. The intraclass correlation, t, was high (greater than .75) for measures of size and weight and moderate (.20 to .60) for most other traits (P less than .05) including a measure of lean distribution (.37). Three main categories of stocks were studied, viz. outbred Leghorns, medium-sized stocks, and contemporary heavy meat chickens. Differences in lean distribution were not associated with category, but differences of 40 to 50 g/kg lean in the breast of some stocks may be caused by a single gene. Lean:bone ratios were similar in medium and heavy stocks but were greater (P less than .05) in heavy meat-types compared with outbred Leghorns. Bone density was higher (P less than .01) in females compared with males and in outbred Leghorns compared with heavier stocks (P less than .01). Heavy meat-type males were leaner (P less than .01) and had proportionately less fat in the abdominal cavity than outbred Leghorns. Carcass fatness was similar among stocks of females, but abdominal fat was lower in Leghorns selected for high egg production compared with unselected Leghorns (P less than .05) and heavy stocks (P less than .001). One resistant and two Marek's disease-susceptible stocks were replicated in a specific pathogen-free (SPF) environment. Spleen weight was larger (P less than .001) in the conventional environment. Females were relatively smaller (P less than .05) than males in the conventional environment. Body temperature (t = .25, P less than .05) and feed intake were assessed in males. Heavy meat birds had a lower (P less than .01) body temperature than outbred Leghorns and medium-sized stocks. Differences among stocks for feed intake (t = .77) were significant (P less than .05); however, they were greatly reduced when feed intake was expressed as g/kg liveweight (LW) (t = .49) or g/kg LW.75 (t = .25). Outbred Leghorns ate less in absolute terms but significantly more (P less than .01) as a proportion of LW or LW.75 than the medium and heavy lines.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-28
Number of pages23
JournalPoultry Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1985


  • Animals
  • Body Composition
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Weight
  • Canada
  • Chickens/anatomy & histology
  • Chickens/genetics
  • Chickens/physiology
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Eating
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Male
  • Marek Disease/immunology
  • Oviposition


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