Divergent selection on home pen locomotor activity in a chicken model: Selection program, genetic parameters and direct response on activity and body weight
General locomotor activity (GLA) in poultry has attracted attention, as it negatively influences production costs (energy expenditure and feed consumption) and welfare parameters (bone strength, litter quality, feather pecking and cannibalism). Laying hen lines diverging in the average level of spontaneous locomotor activity in the home pen were developed by genetic selection using the founder New Hampshire line. Activity was recorded using RFID technology at around five weeks of age during four to five days in the home pen. After initial phenotyping, the least active birds were selected for the low activity line and the most active for the high activity line, with no gene transfer between lines. In each of six generations, approximately ten sires were mated to twenty dams producing 158 to 334 offspring per line per generation. The response to selection was rapid and of a considerable magnitude. In sixth generation, the level of GLA was approximately halved in the low and doubled in the high line compared to the control (7.2, 14.9 and 28.7 recordings/h). Estimated heritability of locomotor activity in the low and high line was 0.38 and 0.33, respectively. Males, in general, were more active than females. High line birds were significantly heavier than low line birds. In fourth, fifth, and sixth generation, low as well as high line birds were lighter than control line birds. This selection experiment demonstrates variation in heritability for GLA and, as a result, genetically diverged lines have been developed. These lines can be used as models for further studies of underlying physiological, neural and molecular genetic mechanisms of spontaneous locomotor activity.