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Higher heritabilities for gait components than for overall gait scores may improve mobility in ducks

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Original languageEnglish
Article number42
JournalGenetics Selection Evolution
Issue number1
Early online date2 May 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 May 2017


Genetic progress in selection for greater body mass and meat yield in poultry has been associated with an increase in gait problems which are detrimental to productivity and welfare. The incidence of suboptimal gait in breeding flocks is controlled through the use of a visual gait score, which is a subjective assessment of walking ability of each bird. The subjective nature of the visual gait score has led to concerns over its effectiveness in reducing the incidence of suboptimal gait in poultry through breeding. The aims of this study were to assess the reliability of the current visual gait scoring system in ducks and to develop a more objective method to select for better gait.

Experienced gait scorers assessed short video clips of walking ducks to estimate the reliability of the current visual gait scoring system. Kendall’s coefficients of concordance between and within observers were estimated at 0.49 and 0.75, respectively. In order to develop a more objective scoring system, gait components were visually scored on more than 4000 pedigreed Pekin ducks and genetic parameters were estimated for these components. Gait components, which are a more objective measure, had heritabilities that were as good as, or better than, those of the overall visual gait score.

Measurement of gait components is simpler and therefore more objective than the standard visual gait score. The recording of gait components can potentially be automated, which may increase accuracy further and may improve heritability estimates. Genetic correlations were generally low, which suggests that it is possible to use gait components to select for an overall improvement in both economic traits and gait as part of a balanced breeding programme.

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