Keel bone fractures affect egg laying performance but not egg quality in laying hens housed in a commercial aviary system
The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of keel bone fracture (KBF) severity and healing activity on individual productivity of laying hens. Focal hens (75 Lohmann Selected Leghorn (LSL), 75 Lohmann Brown (LB)) were housed alongside non-focal hens in 10 identical pens containing a commercial aviary system (15 focal hens per pen). Eggs of focal hens were identified by orally administering a dye on 3 consecutive days, resulting in a hen-specific color pattern in the yolk. Eggs were collected at 7 time points (37 to 61 weeks of age; WOA) for 5 d to determine individual laying performance and to assess egg quality. Radiographs were performed to score KBF severity on a continuous scale. Healing activity was scored as inactive, healing, or fresh. Linear mixed effects models were used for statistical analyses. We found an association between KBF severity and reduced egg laying performance with increasing age (P = 0.005). At 37 WOA, egg laying performance was similar across KBF severities, whereas at 61 WOA, performance in hens with the highest observed KBF severity was 16.2% lower than in hens without fractures. Hens with fresh fractures had a lower performance than hens with healing and inactive fractures at 37 WOA but higher performance at 61 WOA (P = 0.02). Egg quality parameters were not affected by fractures but were associated with an age × hybrid interaction (egg mass: P = 0.039, shell breaking strength: P = 0.03, shell width: P = 0.001). In conclusion, hens could maintain high performance irrespective of fracture severity until shortly after peak of lay, but seemed to redirect available resources towards fracture healing if a fresh fracture was present. At the end of lay, the negative effect of KBF fracture severity on individual production amplified indicating that hens were no longer able to cope with the physiological challenge of a fracture.