Relationships between genetic, environmental and nutritional factors influencing osteoporosis in laying hens

Robert Fleming, Heather McCormack, L. McTeir, C C Whitehead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

1. The effects upon bone quality of feeding limestone in flour or particulate form and housing type (cage or aviary) in lines of hens divergently selected for high (H) or low (L) bone strength over 7 generations were investigated. 2. As in previous generations, highly significant phenotypic differences between lines were observed in all measured bone traits at peak egg production (25 weeks) and towards the end of production (56 weeks) in both cage and aviary systems. 3. At 25 weeks there were no significant effects on bone variables of feeding particulate limestone although a significant reduction in osteoclast number was observed at this age. By 56 weeks osteoclast numbers were further reduced in hens fed particulate limestone and beneficial effects on some bone variables were observed in this treatment group. 4. The genotypic and dietary improvements upon bone quality were independent and additive at both ages. There were very few interactive effects. 5. Hens with the freedom to move in an aviary environment during the laying period had improved bone status compared to caged siblings. Environmental and genotypic effects were additive. 6. There were no effects of line on egg production although H line hens had slightly higher egg production by 56 weeks. Egg numbers were unaffected by diet. Eggshell thickness and strength were unaffected by line but hens fed particulate limestone had thicker- and stronger-shelled eggs over the production period as a whole. 7. We conclude that; (a) genetic selection is extremely effective in improving bone strength and resistance to osteoporosis; (b) allowing hens freedom to exercise can also improve bone strength but may increase the risk of keel damage if they do not have genetically-improved bone status; (c) feeding hens a particulate form of limestone from 15 weeks onwards can also increase bone strength and eggshell quality; (d) genetics, environment and nutrition all have independent and additive effects on bone status in laying hens but the relative effectiveness of these factors is genetics > environment > nutrition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)742-55
Number of pages14
JournalBritish Poultry Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Animal Feed
  • Animal Husbandry
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Chickens/genetics
  • Diet/veterinary
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Housing, Animal
  • Osteoporosis/genetics
  • Osteoporosis/physiopathology
  • Osteoporosis/veterinary
  • Poultry Diseases/genetics
  • Poultry Diseases/physiopathology


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