Genetic analysis of production, physiological, and egg quality traits in heat-challenged commercial white egg-laying hens using 600k SNP array data
Background Heat stress negatively affects the welfare and production of chickens. High ambient temperature is considered one of the most ubiquitous abiotic environmental challenges to laying hens around the world. In this study, we recorded several production traits, feed intake, body weight, digestibility, and egg quality of 400 commercial white egg-laying hens before and during a 4-week heat treatment. For the phenotypes that had estimated heritabilities (using 600k SNP chip data) higher than 0, SNP associations were tested using the same 600k genotype data.
Results Seventeen phenotypes had heritability estimates higher than 0, including measurements at various time points for feed intake, feed efficiency, body weight, albumen weight, egg quality expressed in Haugh units, egg mass, and also for change in egg mass from prior to heat exposure to various time points during the 4-week heat treatment. Quantitative trait loci (QTL) were identified for 10 of these 17 phenotypes. Some of the phenotypes shared QTL including Haugh units before heat exposure and after 4 weeks of heat treatment.
Conclusions Estimated heritabilities differed from 0 for 17 traits, which indicates that they are under genetic control and that there is potential for improving these traits through selective breeding. The association of different QTL with the same phenotypes before heat exposure and during heat treatment indicates that genomic control of traits under heat stress is distinct from that under thermoneutral conditions. This study contributes to the knowledge on the genomic control of response to heat stress in laying hens.