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Organic broilers must have dry feet

Despite having access to an outdoor area, having more room, and exercising more than conventional broilers, organic broilers still have problems with foot pad lesions just like their conventional brethren. A new report from DCA describes causes and proposes possible preventive measures.

[Translate to English:] Den væsentligste årsag til trædepudesvidninger blandt økologiske slagtekyllinger vurderes at være kombinationen af fugt og gødning i stalden. Foto: AU

Foot pad lesions are the result of contact dermatitis in commercial poultry. An investigation indicates that the problem is more frequent in organic broiler chickens than in conventional broilers.

No previous studies have looked at the causes of foot pad lesions in organic broiler production but a new report from DCA – Danish Centre for Food and Agriculture sheds light on what could cause foot pad lesions and how they might be prevented.  

The researchers behind the report interviewed organic broiler farmers and poultry experts. This provided a picture of the situation in organic broiler houses and how farmers can work on preventing foot pad lesions.

The report was prepared at the request of the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark as part of Aarhus University’s agreement with the ministry regarding policy support.    

Bedding is important

An important cause of foot pad lesions in organic broiler chickens seems to be a combination of moisture and manure in the broiler house. If the chickens walk on a humid surface and their own manure sticks to their foot pads, they can get burns on their feet.  

- There are many different reasons why floors in broiler houses can become moist. It can difficult to control the indoor climate because the hatches open and close as the chickens move freely in and out of the building. The farmer must also be aware of the ventilation and of the floor heating, says Inger Anneberg, who is a postdoc in the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University. She and Professor Jan Tind Sørensen are the authors of the report.

It is also essential to keep the feet of the broiler chickens dry and therefore important to apply bedding in the right amounts and with material that has good absorbency. 

In their efforts to maintain dry floors, the farmers in the study used different types of bedding, such as straw pellets, crushed straw, wood shavings and, in some cases in the houses where the chicks start their lives, sphagnum.  

Focus on prevention

Another cause of foot pad lesions can be that broiler chickens spend more time in housing than conventional broiler chickens because they are older at slaughter. Feed composition can affect manure consistency. Yet another factor is that the chickens do not exercise enough and therefore do not scratch the ground enough, which would otherwise help remove the lumps from their feet. 

Both farmers and experts stress the importance of motivating the chickens to exercise more by, for example, providing them with interesting bedding that they enjoy scratching in.

- In our study we found that farmers are focused on and interested in how to prevent foot pad lesions. Among other things, the farmers called for investigations of calluses under the feet of organic broiler chickens, says Inger Anneberg.

Read more in the report (in Danish) ”Årsager til trædepudesvidninger hos økologiske slagtekyllinger” published by DCA – Danish Centre for Food and Agriculture. 

For more information please contact: Postdoc Inger Anneberg, Department of Animal Science, email: inger.anneberg@anis.au.dk, telephone: +45 8715 7854