Skin breaking strength in broiler chickens

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


A procedure was developed to examine factors contributing to skin strength of meat-type chickens. Skin breaking strength was initially measured in lines of chickens divergently selected for high (H) and low (L) juvenile body weight, their reciprocal crosses (HL and LH), and an F₂ generation derived from HL and LH matings. Skin of chicks from the LL line was weakest, that from the HH and LH matings strongest, and that from HL and F₂ matings was intermediate. Percentage heterosis for breaking strength was significantly positive while percentage recombination was not significant.

Skin breaking strength and protein, fat, moisture, and total collagen concentrations of skin from the breast, thigh, and back of male and female commercial broilers were then examined in response to diets containing relatively wide or narrow ratios of calories to protein (C:P). Comparisons were made at 28, 42, and 56 days of age. Chickens fed diets containing wider C:P ratios had weaker skin than those fed diets with narrower C:P ratios, with the differences being greater at older than at younger ages. Males had stronger skin than females. Among body sites, breast skin was stronger than thigh skin with that from the back being intermediate in strength. Skin breaking strength did not appear to be consistently associated with either the protein, fat, or collagen concentrations in the skin.

Skin from broiler chicks fed diets with differing C:P ratios was also examined histologically. Males had stronger and thinner skin than females, with the differences in thickness due primarily to differences in the thickness of the hypodermis. Regardless of sex, feeding diets containing wider C:P ratios resulted in weaker and thicker skin. The thicker skin was associated with an increase in the thickness of the hypodermis and a decrease in the thickness of the dermis and epidermis. With the exception of differences between back and thigh skin, increases in breaking strength occurring between skin from different sites were associated with a reduction in total skin thickness and in the thickness of the hypodermis. It was concluded that increased hypodermis thickness and/or decreased thickness of the dermis and epidermis reduced skin strength.

Two experiments were conducted in which skin strength was examined in relation to heat stress and supplemental ascorbic acid. In the first experiment, chicks fed diets containing 0 or 100 mg of ascorbic acid per kg of diet were subjected to either a constant ambient temperature of 23C, a constant ambient temperature of 32C, or a treatment consisting of 32C from 1600 to 1200 hr and 400 from 1200 to 1600 hr (32/400). Both heat stress and supplemental ascorbic acid tended to increase collagen concentrations in the skin, but differences in breaking strength were inconsistent in response to these treatments. Supplemental ascorbic acid, however, partially alleviated reductions in body weight due to heat stress but did not decrease body temperatures of heat-stressed chicks.

In the final experiment, diets containing either 0, 200, or 400 mg/kg of supplemental ascorbic acid were fed to chicks maintained at ambient temperatures of 23 and 34C. Contrary to previous observations, ascorbic acid failed to ameliorate the depressive effect of heat stress on body weight. Supplemental ascorbic acid tended to reduce adrenal, bursa of Fabricius, and spleen weights but had no effect on heterophil and lymphocyte numbers or ratios. Adrenal ascorbic acid concentrations were not significantly affected by supplemental ascorbic acid and plasma ascorbic acid levels were inconsistent among treatment groups. Neither supplemental ascorbic acid nor heat stress significantly influenced skin strength. It was concluded that supplemental ascorbic acid was not beneficial in improving skin strength in commercial broiler chicks.