Genetic parameters of feeding behavior traits and their relationship with live performance traits in modern broiler lines
Current selection goals in broiler breeding focus on the improvement of live performance traits, such as feed intake, BW, and feed conversion ratio (FCR). The use of electronic feeders allows measurement of feed intake of individuals housed in groups as well as the identification of different feeding behaviors. Feed intake can thus be split into underlying feeding behavior traits, allowing the estimation of genetic correlations and assessment of the genetic consequences of selecting for performance traits on feeding behavior traits. To investigate the genetic relationships between performance traits and feeding behavior, data of visits to feeders by birds from 4 lines of broilers that differed in selection focus on growth and FCR were analyzed. Visits were recorded electronically and grouped into meals using an existing model for estimating meal criteria. Mean individual feeding behavior traits were then calculated across the entire test period (2 to 5 wk of age). Records were available for between 14,000 and 18,000 birds/line. Analyzed feeding behavior traits were meals per day, meal size, visits per meal, meal duration, nonfeeding time in meal, time feeding per day, proportion of meal spent feeding, feeding rate, and ADFI. Analyzed performance traits were 35-d BW, total feed intake over the entire test period, and FCR. All feeding behavior traits showed moderate to high heritabilities (0.24 to 0.57) but low genetic correlations with performance traits (−0.20 to 0.18), except for ADFI, which was moderately correlated with total intake on test (0.57) and highly correlated with FCR (0.91). The low genetic correlations indicate that the difference in selection intensity among lines for these performance traits has had limited effect on feeding behavior. Different feeding strategies that would result in favorable breeding values for FCR were identified, adding opportunities for further improvements in feed efficiency within and across environments.
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