The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Radiography could transform poultry breeding

Imaging procedure to measure bone quality in live birds provides a reliable, efficient way to inform selection of laying hens.

A fast, safe method of analysing bone density in live hens could help poultry producers select the optimum birds with which to breed, to improve animal health and welfare.

Scientists at the Roslin Institute, part of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, have developed a digital X-ray procedure that takes around 45 seconds to conduct, is practical for hens and poultry workers, and delivers reliable, reproducible results.

Their novel method enables breeders to consider bone density in their selection of laying hens, which are at risk of fractures from biological changes linked with laying eggs.

Technological advancement

Recent advances in digital X-ray technology have enabled researchers to develop their technique to capture and interpret images relating to bone density.

Their method involves quickly capturing digital X-rays of live hens, from which their leg bone density can be calculated, and data digitally shared.

Researchers optimised their method to ensure a clear image in minimal exposure time.

Their approach was validated by comparing results from chicken X-rays with those from analysis of chicken leg bones.

The procedure, which takes about 45 seconds, offers a fast, practical alternative to conventional imaging techniques such as Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry, Digitised Fluoroscopy and CT scans.

Strong bones offer improved health and reduced risk of fractures in birds that have freedom to move around their environment. The keel bone, or sternum, of hens is particularly prone to damage and previous research by the same team has shown that leg bone density is genetically related to that of the keel bone, and to fracture risk.

A practical way to measure bone density could also help reduce the number of animals needed for research into nutritional and management aids for bone health.

The study, published in British Poultry Science, was supported by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research.

For many decades, poultry breeders have chosen which birds to breed according to a mix of many factors, but it has not been possible to account for bone quality in live hens, and a practical method of measuring bone quality in hens has been unavailable. Our method represents a major development to aid selection towards improving bone strength, and health and welfare, in laying hens.

Professor Ian DunnPersonal Chair of Avian Biology, Roslin Institute

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About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than eight hundred staff and almost fourteen hundred students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos.    

The School comprises:   

  The Roslin Institute   

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems   

The Roslin Innovation Centre   

The Hospital for Small Animals   

Equine Veterinary Services   

Farm Animal Services   

Easter Bush Pathology   

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education   

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.