Osteoporosis in cage layers

C C Whitehead, Robert Fleming

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review


Osteoporosis in laying hens is a condition that involves the progressive loss of structural bone during the laying period. This bone loss results in increased bone fragility and susceptibility to fracture, with fracture incidences of up to 30% over the laying period and depopulation not uncommon under commercial conditions. A major cause of osteoporosis is the switch in bone formation from structural to medullary bone at the onset of sexual maturity, but structural bone loss is accelerated by the relative inactivity of-caged birds. Allowing birds more exercise, as in aviary systems, results in better bone quality but may not decrease the overall fracture incidence. Good nutrition can help to minimize osteoporosis but is unable to prevent it. Best nutritional practice involves transferring birds to a higher calcium diet at lighting up rather than at first egg, providing a source of calcium in particulate form, and not withdrawing feed some days before depopulation. Breeding may be an effective way of combating ostoporosis. Some bone strength traits have been shown to be heritable, and divergent selection for resistance or susceptibility to osteoporosis has resulted in lines with markedly different bone characteristics. After three generations of selection, the lines differ by 19% for keel bone mineral density, 13% for humerus breaking strength, and 25% for tibia breaking strength and show a sixfold difference in fracture incidence under commercial breeding conditions. The difference in bone quality among the lines is maintained under different housing systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1033-41
Number of pages9
JournalPoultry Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2000


  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Bone Density/genetics
  • Breeding
  • Chickens/genetics
  • Female
  • Osteoporosis/etiology
  • Osteoporosis/genetics
  • Osteoporosis/prevention & control
  • Osteoporosis/veterinary
  • Oviposition
  • Physical Exertion
  • Poultry Diseases/etiology
  • Selection, Genetic


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