Scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh have developed a fast and safe method of analysing bone density in live hens that could help the poultry sector with breeding.

The digital x-ray procedure, which helps decipher the optimum birds to breed to improve animal health and welfare, takes around 45 seconds to conduct.

The radiography has the potential to “transform poultry breeding”, as it delivers reliable and reproducible results, according to the Roslin Institute.

The 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 advancements

Advancements in digital x-ray technology have enabled researchers to capture and interpret the images relating to bone density.

The method includes quickly capturing digital x-rays of hens, from which their leg bone density can be calculated, and data digitally shared.

Strong bones offer improved health and reduced risk of fractures in birds that have freedom to move around their environment.

Professor Ian Bunn, the personal chair of avian biology at Roslin Institute, said: “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.”

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