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PeerJ. 2014 Jul 3;2:e432. doi: 10.7717/peerj.432. eCollection 2014.

Anatomical and biomechanical traits of broiler chickens across ontogeny. Part I. Anatomy of the musculoskeletal respiratory apparatus and changes in organ size.

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Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester , Manchester , UK.
Structure & Motion Laboratory, Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences, The Royal Veterinary College, University of London , Hatfield, Hertfordshire , UK.


Genetic selection for improved meat yields, digestive efficiency and growth rates have transformed the biology of broiler chickens. Modern birds undergo a 50-fold multiplication in body mass in just six weeks, from hatching to slaughter weight. However, this selection for rapid growth and improvements in broiler productivity is also widely thought to be associated with increased welfare problems as many birds suffer from leg, circulatory and respiratory diseases. To understand growth-related changes in musculoskeletal and organ morphology and respiratory skeletal development over the standard six-week rearing period, we present data from post-hatch cadaveric commercial broiler chickens aged 0, 2, 4 and 6 weeks. The heart, lungs and intestines decreased in size for hatch to slaughter weight when considered as a proportion of body mass. Proportional liver size increased in the two weeks after hatch but decreased between 2 and 6 weeks. Breast muscle mass on the other hand displayed strong positive allometry, increasing in mass faster than the increase in body mass. Contrastingly, less rapid isometric growth was found in the external oblique muscle, a major respiratory muscle that moves the sternum dorsally during expiration. Considered together with the relatively slow ossification of elements of the respiratory skeleton, it seems that rapid growth of the breast muscles might compromise the efficacy of the respiratory apparatus. Furthermore, the relative reduction in size of the major organs indicates that selective breeding in meat-producing birds has unintended consequences that may bias these birds toward compromised welfare and could limit further improvements in meat-production and feed efficiency.


Breathing; Broiler; Development; Organ; Pathology; Scaling

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