Leg disorders form a major problem for the broiler chicken industry. Although recent genetic, nutritional and management measures have improved the situation, there is still room for further improvement. Leg disorders can be caused by a number of different factors: from specific disorders associated with tibial dyschondroplasia to non-specific disruption of longitudinal growth. Severe leg disorders seriously affect the movement of chickens, resulting in death by starvation and dehydration. Furthermore, it has been proven that even mild disorders can cause discomfort or pain. Recent research has shown that bone disorders can be induced at a young age and physiological studies show the importance of early nutrition for the development of the chick.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) of the omega-6 and omega-3 series are precursors for the production of prostaglandins, which regulate various physiological processes. They influence many metabolic processes, including bone formation and bone development. Research has proven that prostaglandins derived from omega-6 fatty acids, particularly PGE2, have an inhibitory effect on bone development, while prostaglandins from omega-3 fatty acids have a stimulatory effect on the osteoblast function and bone formation (Chang et al., 1998). Broiler chicken feed, and starter feed in particular, is usually rich in omega-6 fatty acids. A better omega-3/ omega-6 ratio in the feed will thus contribute to better bone development of poultry. A recent trial by the Roslin Institute in Stirling has revealed that replacing corn oil with salmon oil in the feed of broiler chicks up to 14 days will improve their bone characteristics, see figure 1.

Results trial
Figure 1. The bonestrength of broiler chicks with various levels of salmon oil