Open Access Research article

Improving the efficiency of feed utilization in poultry by selection. 1. Genetic parameters of anatomy of the gastro-intestinal tract and digestive efficiency

Hugues de Verdal1, Agnès Narcy1, Denis Bastianelli2, Hervé Chapuis3, Nathalie Même1, Séverine Urvoix1, Elisabeth Le Bihan-Duval1 and Sandrine Mignon-Grasteau1*

Author Affiliations

1 INRA, UR83 Recherches Avicoles, F-37380, Nouzilly, France

2 CIRAD, UMR SELMET, 34398 Montpellier cedex 5, France

3 SYSAAF, UR83 Recherches Avicoles, F-37380, Nouzilly, France

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BMC Genetics 2011, 12:59  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-12-59

Published: 6 July 2011



Feed costs represent about 70% of the costs of raising broilers. The main way to decrease these costs is to improve feed efficiency by modification of diet formulation, but one other possibility would be to use genetic selection. Understanding the genetic architecture of the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT) and the impact of the selection criterion on the GIT would be of particular interest. We therefore studied the genetic parameters of AMEn (Apparent metabolisable energy corrected for zero nitrogen balance), feed efficiency, and GIT traits in chickens.

Genetic parameters were estimated for 630 broiler chickens of the eighth generation of a divergent selection experiment on AMEn. Birds were reared until 23 d of age and fed a wheat-based diet. The traits measured were body weight (BW), feed conversion ratio (FCR), AMEn, weights of crop, liver, gizzard and proventriculus, and weight, length and density of the duodenum, jejunum and ileum.


The heritability estimates of BW, FCR and AMEn were moderate. The heritability estimates were higher for the GIT characteristics except for the weights of the proventriculus and liver. Gizzard weight was negatively correlated with density (weight to length ratio) of duodenum, jejunum and ileum. Proventriculus and gizzard weights were more strongly correlated with AMEn than with FCR, which was not the case for intestine weight and density.


GIT traits were largely dependent on genetics and that selecting on AMEn or FCR would modify them. Phenotypic observations carried out in the divergent lines selected on AMEn were consistent with estimated genetic correlations between AMEn and GIT traits.