VIDEO: Can broiler feeding programs reduce woody breast?

Find out about University of Arkansas's Dr. Casey Owens's broiler muscle myopathy research and what she suggests to combat it.

University of Arkansas’s Dr. Casey Owens discusses her research of broiler muscle myopathies and provides tips for how to combat it

Broiler muscle myopathies, such as woody breast and white striping, can affect the broiler producer’s ability to deliver the highest quality meat to their customers.

Aside from management considerations for mitigating these meat defects, can a nutrition-based approach be taken as well? Dr. Casey Owens, professor of poultry science at the University of Arkansas, joined the Chat to discuss this hot poultry topic.

Can broiler feeding programs be used to reduce woody breast and white striping? from WATT Global Media on Vimeo.

Transcription of Feed Strategy Chat with Dr. Casey Owens, professor of poultry science, University of Arkansas

Jackie Roembke, editor in chief, WATT Feed Brands/Feed Strategy: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Feed Strategy Chat. I’m your host, Jackie Roembke, editor in chief of WATT Feed Brands and Feed Strategy magazine.

This edition of Feed Strategy Chat is brought to you by WATT Global Media and is your source for the latest news and leading-edge analysis of the global animal feed industry.

Today we are joined on Zoom by Dr. Casey Owens, a professor of poultry science at the University of Arkansas. Dr. Owens is here to discuss broiler muscle myopathies and what producers can do to minimize occurrences.

Hi, Dr. Owens, how are you?

Dr. Casey Owens, professor of poultry science, University of Arkansas: I’m good. Thank you for having me having me today.

Roembke: Absolutely. Thank you so much for joining us. Well, let’s get right into it. What causes meat quality issues in broiler production? And what are the effects on the bird’s health and, of course, producer profitability?

Owens: In the last decade or so, we’ve been faced with some of these meat quality defects, such as white striping, woody breast, spaghetti meat, we’re observing in the plants. But those do happen in the field, where the birds are growing. A lot of it has to do with the rates of protein synthesis, and also rates of protein degradation. When birds are growing at a rapid rate, there is protein turnover that occurs so the degradation rate may be a little faster (due to stress) than the synthesis can do to keep up. And, as a result, sometimes we’ll get muscle fiber degeneration in the meat. When that happens, those voids are filled in with collagen or fat, for example.

The effect on the bird’s health and also the producer profitability? In terms of those two things, typically, the birds that are doing the best in terms of growth rates, and maybe feed efficiency, those birds will typically have a little bit more of the problem with these meat quality defects that we see in the processing plant.

There’s not a lot of clear evidence in the literature, looking at the bird’s health versus these meat quality effects in terms of welfare or what not. We know that there’s not like a systemic infection in the birds so they are healthy birds. It is a meat quality defect. The meat is safe as well.

In terms of producers’ profitability, in the plants, they’re looking at severity in the plant and when we have a lot of more severe [defects], like woody breasts, for example, that can impact customers’ acceptability of that product. And so it can potentially reduce that profitability in terms of if products are turned away, or even just the meat quality defects that are associated with it — like water-holding capacity — there’s reduced yields associated with it because we lose more water in the meat product, so that can reduce their profitability.

Feed Strategy Conference | “Strategies for woody breast and white striping mitigation through feeding,” presented by Dr. Owens:

Roembke: Thank you for that explanation. Tell us about how your current research related to white striping and woody breast prevention.

Owens: To preface all of that, I will say that I really am a meat scientist, I’m not a nutritionist, but I do work with great ones, and collaborate with people to do things on the live production side. But my program really encompasses three big areas: one, the live production side; another one being in the processing plant, and what to do with the products — so we’ll look at marination techniques and things of that nature, and how to improve the product once we have it; and then another aspect of that is also detection methods to help detect this in the plant or developing techniques that we can detect it early on in the birds’ lives that we can make changes or would potentially help with breeding programs and so forth. So it just would be a tool.

In terms of what we’ve been doing on the live production side recently, doing a lot of characterization of meat quality changes in general, with birds of different strains over a longer period of time, from a small bird up to a big bird. We are also evaluating some management practices, such as stocking density, and their impact on myopathies.

Roembke: And you’ve made it clear you’re not a nutritionist, but are there any feeding strategies or things being explored to perhaps offset those issues in “big bird” broiler production?

Owens: Right, so you have a big broiler production that’s been, a growing trend in the last 10 to 15 years and so forth. When you’re looking at myopathies and also looking at the nutritional strategies, I think nutritional strategies can be short-term mitigation factors in improving woody breast or helping to reduce that. But it’s important to remember that there’s not been one single silver bullet.

I try to stay on top of the literature, in terms of what different people are doing, because there’s some great labs out there doing research. Looking at reduced amino acids or single amino acids like lysine, for example, if you reduce those in certain periods of the growing period for chickens, then that can reduce the woody breast severity, but you have to be careful if it also reduces the body weight of the bird or changes the feed conversion ratio in a negative fashion.

Again, typically, these myopathies do show up with birds that do grow the best. And so if there are nutritional factors that we’re trying to implement or nutritional strategies, be careful that you’re not limiting that bird growth. You wouldn’t want to lose a lot of growth performance in efforts to improve the woody breast from an economic standpoint.

It’s usually a hurdle approach that also occurs. You can use antioxidants that can help improve woody breast severity, but that may be used in combination with other things, i.e. maybe reducing lysine, for example, in a certain period of time during that growing period or combining it with some trace minerals or antioxidants improvements and so forth. These are things I’ll cover a little bit more detail in the presentation, but it’s usually a hurdle approach in terms of trying to reduce myopathies in the overall product in the end.

Roembke: Thank you so much. And you mentioned your presentation so for the audience, if you will be at IPPE and are free on January 25, consider joining us at the Feed Strategy Conference. Here, Dr. Owens will be presenting her talk, “Strategies for woody breast and white striping mitigation through feeding.”

You can find more information about the half-day conference at

Thank you so much, Dr. Owens, and thanks to you for tuning in.

Owens: Thank you very much.