Effect of silvopasture system on fearfulness and leg health in fast-growing broiler chickens

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $279,078.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Virginia Tech
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Leonie Jacobs
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)
John Fike
school of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Va Tech
Dr. John Munsell, PhD
Virginia Tech - Department of Forest Resources and Environmental
Gabriel Pent
Dept. of Crop and Soil Environmental Science, Virginia Tech
A silvopasture system intentionally integrates trees, forages, and livestock, allowing dual land use. These systems can provide high-quality habitat for broiler chickens; however, such systems have not been widely adopted by the broiler industry in the United States. The objective of this study was to examine the effect of silvopasture versus open pasture access on fearfulness and leg health in fast-growing broiler chickens. A total of 886 mixed-sex Ross 708 chicks in Experiment 1 (Exp 1) and 648 chicks in Experiment 2 (Exp 2) were housed in coops and had access to 16 (Exp 1) or 12 (Exp 2) 125m2 silvopasture plots (x̄ = 32% canopy cover) or open pasture plots (no canopy cover) from day 24 of age. Fearfulness was measured using a tonic immobility test (tonic immobility duration), and leg health was assessed by quantifying footpad dermatitis, hock burns, gait, and performing a latency-to-lie test on days 37–39 of age. Birds in the silvopasture treatment were less fearful than birds in the open pasture treatment. Overall, birds in both silvopasture and open pasture systems had excellent leg health. Silvopasture birds had lower footpad dermatitis scores than open pasture birds. Silvopasture birds tended to have worse gait than open pasture birds in Exp 1, but not in Exp 2. Hock burn scores and latency-to-lie did not differ between treatments in Exp 1 or Exp 2. Raising birds in silvopasture reduced fear and improved footpad health compared to birds raised in open pastures, which indicates that silvopasture systems provide some benefits for affective state and leg health in fast-growing broilers.
Peer-reviewed Journal Article
Bidur Paneru
Gabriel Pent
Shawna Nastasi
Adam Downing
John Munsell
John Fike
Leonie Jacobs
Target audiences:
Educators; Researchers
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.