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Bergmann, Shana; Louton, Helen; Westermaier, Christine; Wilutzky, Katharina; Bender, Andreas; Bachmeier, Josef; Erhard, Michael H. and Rauch, Elke (2016): Field trial on animal-based measures for animal welfare in slow growing broilers reared under an alternative concept suitable for the German market. In: Berliner und Münchener Tierärztliche Wochenschrift, Vol. 129, No. 11/12: pp. 453-461

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Broiler chickens are usually reared in deep litter systems without any enrichment, and animal welfare related issues occur on a regular basis. Publicizing the problems has led to better consumer awareness and the demand for animal-friendly produced food. We established and tested an alternative rearing concept to improve bird welfare by introducing an intermediate product between organically and conventionally produced meats to the German market. Within the frame of this project 6 rearing periods per concept and farm were evaluated in parallel on 3 to 4 predetermined days per rearing period. Ross 308 broilers (conventional farm) were reared according to the minimum requirements regulated by law and the slower growing Cobb SassoTM 175A broilers (alternative farm) were housed with provision of perches, straw bales, pecking stones and a winter garden with lower stocking densities. Broilers of both strains showed an increasing prevalence and severity of foot pad alterations with increasing age and exposure duration in the barn. Shortly before slaughter, 2.5% of the alternative broilers (day 40) and 16.8% of the conventional broilers (day 35) showed various degrees of foot pad dermatitis. The variable farm/strain had a significant effect (P < 0.001) on the occurrence of hyperkeratosis and foot pad dermatitis. Live weight had a significant effect (P < 0.001) on the prevalence of hock burn in both strains. Obvious lameness (0.8%) and immobility (0.5%) could only be identified in conventional broilers. The results of this study indicate a higher animal well-being of slower growing broilers reared under enriched environmental conditions compared to conventionally reared broilers of this study. However, because of the study design and the confounding of farm/rearing concept and strain these results can only be seen as hypothesis generating and should be investigated in further studies.

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