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Prof. Mana Raj Kolakshyapati, Ph.D.

Class: Five

Subject: Principles and Practices of Animal Breeding (2+1)

Important Economic Traits of Livestock and Poultry

Livestock farming is done for different purposes so that the farm products satisfy the basic
needs of farm household in-terms of nutrition, money, socio-economic and socio-cultural
requirements etc. Livestock species are domesticated/selected for farming depends on the
needs and objectives and also the farming systems exist in the location. While evaluating the
farm animals only those traits should be considered which have high economic values or should
meet the existing market demands, so that the breeding programs become effective and

Traits can be defined as:

A trait is "a distinguishing phenotypic characteristic, typically belonging to an individual". In practice this
means anything you can record or measure on an individual.

Threshold traits: A threshold trait is a trait which is inherited quantitatively but expressed qualitatively.
Normally a lot of genes form the basis of threshold trait so it is treated as quantitative trait.

Sex Linked Trait: Controlled by genes located on sex chromosomes ex: rapid and slow feathering. Cocks
transmit sex linked genes to both male and female chicks and Hen – only male chicks.

Sex Limited Traits: Which are expressed in one sex (either male or female). Ex: Egg production –
females only.

Basically traits are divided into

• Qualitative

• Quantitative

Qualitative: The characters controlled by one or few pairs of gene, show discontinuous variation ie
those in which variations fall into a few clearly defined classes and least influenced by environment. Ex:
comb type, plumage shank color, plumage pattern, curling of feathers. Almost all the traits whose
inheritance is well-known are in the qualitative class.
The discontinuous nature of variation in qualitative traits makes it possible, through breeding test, to
determine the genotypes of individuals in each phenotypic class because:

 Most of the variation in qualitative traits can be attributed to one or few major genes
 These traits are little affected by environmental modifications

Quantitative: Controlled by many pairs of gene, show continuous variation, ie there are small
gradations in the expression from one extreme to the other and largely influenced by environmental
factors. Traits of economic values are mostly quantitative traits. Ex : Body weight, Egg production,
Fertility, hatchability etc. These traits are characterized by Polygenic Inheritance (genes concerned are at
many loci) and have a large environmental effects.

The selection concerns three type of traits

1. Production traits

The production traits of the livestock and poultry are the traits which exhibit the continuous variation in
the respective population because they are govern by many genes having a small effect on the traits of
interest. Examples; milk, egg, meat, growth, fleece and many more of the respective breeds and the
purpose of growing the farm animals.

2. Reproduction traits: The traits related to the reproduction are also have a high economic value
affected by many pairs of genes exhibiting the continuous variation in the respective population.

3. Morphological traits: The traits are recorded on the visual appraise of the respective animals or the
breeds of defined observable characteristics. The observations may be the bone finess, size, height at
withers, coat color etc.

Economic values

The aim of the selection is to increase the breeder incomes through the most productive animals. When
the selection is led using several traits we have to chose the animals showing the best gene combination
of the different interesting traits. To do this we need to know the genetic value of the animal (the
genetic index) and the relative economic importance that each trait has in the farm income.

Choosing the Traits for Selection

Many factors determines the selection/choosing the traits in any livestock farming. The following are
among the most important factors that determines the the selection of the traits:

 The goal of the selection program

 The heritability of the traits
 The economic value of improvement in each trait
 The range of variation of expression of each trait
 Correlation among the traits the cost of the selection programs.
Selection Goals:
Often the goal of the selection program makes the choice of traits quite obvious. For example, the
breeder of dairy cattle may set out to breed cows with superior milk production and not to be
concerned with any other characteristics of his cows, thus his choice of trait is specified by his selection
goals. In dairy cattle farming the selection goals may be “Breed a more profitable animal”. In this case,
the primary income is derived from the sale of milk. The increased milk production must received
primary emphasis in a selection program.

Heritability (h2) is defined to be the fraction of superiority of parents which is, on the average,
transmitted to their offspring. Heritability measures the ability of the trait to respond to selection. Trait
with high heritability shows a much stronger response to selection than those with low heritability. In
general, reproductive traits usually have low heritability (0.00 to 0.10), yield: milk, egg, wool etc
character has moderate heritability (0.15 to 0.35) and anatomical measurements usually have moderate
to high (0.40 to 0.60) heritability. Traits with extremely low heritability (such as fertility) are poor risk in
a selection program; since most variations are non-transmissible and response to selection will be slow
if it occurs at all.
Economic Value:
The relative economic value of alternative traits is an important consideration in a selection program.
Trait with high economic value often have low heritability, thus, both factors must be considered jointly
if we are to make a good choice of traits. Perhaps the best way to compare the economic values is to
compute the expected response of each trait to specific intensity of selection, then to compare the
economic values of the expected responses. Many traits can be quickly eliminated, however, because
they have little or no economic value.
Variability of the Trait:
Selection operates on the variability in expression of the trait by choosing parents which are above
average. Obviously, if all animals are quite uniform for a trait, there will be little selection response,
because any selected group of parents will not be much better than those not selected. Some traits are
much more variables than others, thus the innate variation of the traits should be carefully considered
on choosing traits for selection. Variation can be increased by improving exotic types, and sometimes
this can be result in new combinations of genes which are superior to either parent type.
Correlated Traits:
Sometimes traits tend to be inherited together. These correlations may arise in several ways:
 The trait may be different measures of some underlying trait. For example, weight and
height are both measures of body size, thus taller animals are usually also heavier and
these two traits are said to be correlated.
 Pleiotrophy: If the same genes produce responses in several traits these traits will be
said to be correlated.
 Linkage: Genes on the same chromosome tend to segregate together causing
correlations. In the long run, however, crossing over produces equilibrium between
coupling and repulsion phases, thus, correlation due to linkage are transitory.
 Correlated responses are common. Selection for increased milk yield produces a
correlated decrease in the per cent of fat in the milk. Selection for an increased rate of
gain produces a correlated increase in feed efficiency in swine. Thus both direct and
correlated responses are positive while others are negative.
Correlated responses may be used advantageously in a selection program. For example,
feed efficiency is expensive to measure because it requires both weight gain and feed
intake on each individual where as weight gain requires neither feed weight nor
individual feeding. The high correlation between rate of gain and feed efficiency causes
almost as much correlated improvement in feed efficiency from selection for rate of
gain as would be obtained by direct selection for feed efficiency.
Conversely, some correlated responses show slow progress. Egg size and number of
eggs produced are negatively correlated, thus selection for more eggs result in smaller
eggs whereas selection for larger eggs results in fewer eggs being laid. The breeder
would often like to get both larger eggs and more eggs too. The optimum combination
for selection depends on the market situation and price differences between large and
small eggs. Selection for both more and larger eggs is effective, but is much slower than
if they were not negatively correlated.
In summary, definite goals are essential for a successful selection program. The success
in achieving these goals depends on the existence of genetic differences, the degree to
which phenotype differences are heritable, and the correlated responses in other traits.

Some of the economic traits or quantitative traits in poultry are as follows:

 Hatch weight. Economic Traits of Layers: Age
 Weight at 20 weeks. Age at sexual maturity (days); Age at start of lay
 Age at maturity. Body weight at maturity
 Weight at maturity. Egg production/Egg number
 Age at maturity in flocks without trap nesting. Egg weight, quality, Feed efficiency etc
 Egg production at 40 weeks.
 Egg production at 72 weeks.
 Hen-day production at 40 weeks of age.

Economic Traits of Broilers

• Growth traits - Body weight and Growth rate,

Feed efficiency, Livability/Survivability at market age,

Carcass traits - Dressing percentage
AGE AT SEXUAL MATURITY: When pullets’ reach 5 % egg production is considered as the age at maturity;
21st week of age. Sometimes may be reached even at 19th or 20th week which is not desirable. It
happens when additional night lighting is given to growers indiscriminately even after six weeks of age
i.e. 0-6 wks; 24 hours.
Grower stage: 6-18 wks – 12 hrs (day light enough); 18 wks onwards – increase weekly half an hour to
fix 16 hours. If laying starts early, the eggs laid are smaller in size. Strain of the bird and quality of feed
also affect the age at sexual maturity.


BODY WEIGHT AT MATURITY: This character decides feed efficiency, egg number and egg weight. The body
weight of layers at start of lay has to be optimal; it should neither be low nor high (1.2 to 1.3 kg). Low
body weight indicates poor growth of egg forming female reproductive tract, which in turn will result in
poor egg production and egg weight. Higher body weight at maturity will lead to higher feed
consumption and reduced persistency; If higher body weight is due to high abdominal fat, the same will
obstruct Infundibulum and affect egg production.

EGG PRODUCTION/NUMBER: 310-320 eggs in one year ( 21-72 weeks of age). Strain of the bird, Age and
body weight at start of lay, Lighting schedule during growing and laying, Feed quality (protein, energy,
vitamins, mineral and trace mineral content and toxin free feed), Culling procedure, Climate,
Managemental factors like space allowances, System of feeding, Water quality, Vaccination and other
disease control measures influence egg number.

EGG WEIGHT: 52-56 g on an average, Egg weight is mainly dependent on body weight of the birds; Birds at
later stage of production are comparatively older, heavier and lay larger sized eggs, First egg in a clutch
(series of eggs laid daily without a break) is always heavier than other eggs in the series

If total number of eggs laid in a laying cycle of one year is comparatively less, individual egg size by such
strain of birds is normally larger and if the egg number is more egg size will be comparatively less. To
overcome this and to decide as to which strain is preferable, another character known as “egg mass” is
considered; It is the total weight of eggs laid by a bird in a laying cycle. It depends both on egg number
and average weight of an egg. All other factors such as quality of feed, managemental factor, age, strain
etc., which influence body weight also have an influence on egg weight.

FEED EFFICIENCY:efficiency of conversion of feed into egg, calculated in terms of conversion into number
of eggs (per dozen eggs) or weight of eggs (per kg egg mass)

Feed efficiency of a layer depends on the: • strain of the bird • average egg number • egg weight •
Quality of feed (energy, protein and contents of other vital nutrients, presence of toxins) •
managemental practices.

Brooder (0-8 weeks) - Permissible levels of mortality 4% (96%) • Grower (9-20 weeks) - 2-3%
(96-97%) • Layer (21-72 weeks) stages - 6-8% (92-94% )
EGG QUALITY: The external characteristics of the egg will be assessed by the following methods:

• Egg size/ weight • Shape • Shell color & Texture • Cleanliness • Volume • Specific gravity • Surface

EGG SIZE OR WEIGHT: egg weight varies between breed and age of the bird. Heavier birds produce heavier
egg. When compared to body size, Japanese quail lay heavier egg than other species. Species weight
Chicken: 55-60 gm (1/30th) Turkey: 65-70 gm (1/60th) Duck: 65-70 gm (1/25th), Ostrich: 1.2 KG
Japanese quail: 10 gm (1/15th)

EGG SHAPE: •Ovate, plays a major role in packing and transport. Egg shape is expressed as "Shape index •
A normal egg - 72 (Range 70-74). • Spherical in shape will have a shape index of 75 • elongated/
elliptical will have lesser shape index of 70.

Volume: Volume is also one of the indicators of egg size. • Egg volume is directly proportional to the egg
size. • The volume of a fresh egg will always be less than the egg weight. However a small egg will have
greater volume by weight ratio.

SPECIFIC GRAVITY: • indication of the egg shell quality, as well as its freshness. • Fresh eggs will have
higher specific gravity than old and long stored eggs • because there will be a loss of moisture in the old
eggs which in-turn replaced by air. So the air cell will become bigger as the egg is stored for a longer
time. • Similarly, eggs having stronger shell will have higher specific gravity than thin shelled eggs. • A
normal egg will have a specific gravity of 1.06. • Any value less than this may indicate that the egg is old
or the eggs are thin shelled;

SURFACE AREA • Surface area of an egg is directly proportional to egg size. The surface area will be more
for elongated eggs than for spherical eggs.


BODY WEIGHT AT MARKET AGE • It is the average live weight of a broiler when sold to market. • It is
obtained by dividing the total weight of birds sold by the number of broilers. • 2-2.2 kg in 38-42 days •
Strain ( cornish male line used in commercial broilers) • disinfection, downtime, system of rearing, water
sanitation, feeding, night lighting, watering, floor space, growth promoters, housing design etc. • All in-
all out system – rearing of same age group birds.

FEED EFFICIENCY:• feed involves 70 % of the cost of production, feed efficiency or efficiency of feed
conversion by the broilers determines profit margin also. • FCR- 1.6-1.8 is optimal.

CARCASS TRAITS: • It is the proportion of edible meat to total live weight which varies from 72 to 76 %.

LIVABILITY/SURVIVABILITY AT MARKET AGE • under standard rearing conditions, 94 to 96 % livability is

anticipated at market age since the death rate (mortality) should not exceed 4 to 6 %.

Fertility and hatchability

FERTILITY:Refers to capacity to reproduce • fertilization of egg by union of sperm with ovum. % fertility
=no. of fertile eggs/total no. of eggs × 100.

Hatchability: the percentage of chicks hatched out of total number of egg set. Measured in two forms 1)
Hatchability on total number of egg set – 85- 87% 2) Hatchability on number of fertile eggs - 90-95%

FACTORS AFFECTING FERTILITY • Age of the parent stock: 25 to 40 weeks after which fertility gradually
diminishes • Breed: Lighter breeds like White Leghorn is more fertile than heavier breeds like the broiler
breeders. • Genetic factors: Many genes influence fertility eg: in Wyandotte the gene responsible for
rose comb (RR) lowers fertility in males. • Environmental factors: Excessive high and low temperature
reduces fertility. • Disease conditions: Many diseases like Ranikhet disease, Mycoplasmosis, Salmonella
etc., affect fertility.

• Sex ratio: Both higher and lower male to female ratio will reduce fertility. Recommended ratio is 1:15-
16 in layers, 1:10-12 in broilers and 1:2 in quails. • The semen volume, sperm concentration and number
of successful mating also alter fertility. Inseminating the birds during the afternoon can lower fertility. •
Nutritional factors: Some deficiencies like vitamin A, E , Biotin, Pantothenic acid and B2 and minerals
like calcium, phosphorous, sodium, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc and Iodine lower fertility.

• Photo period: A photo period of 16 hrs per day will give optimum fertility. By either lowering the
length of period to 12 hrs or increasing it to 18 hours lowers the fertility. • Male nutrition: Male
breeders should be fed with lower protein levels of 12-14% for optimum fertility.

Older hens, over weight hens, Less fertility in heavy breeds compared to light breeds

FACTORS AFFECTING HATCHABILITY • Breed, strain and individual variation. • Presence of lethal and semi
lethal genes like creeper, crooked toe, crooked beak, polydactyl conditions • Intense Inbreeding leads to
reduced fertility while out-breeding improves it. • Management and nutritional status of breeding stock.
B2 deficiency causes 0% hatchability. Vitamins A, B2 and E are critical vitamins which affect hatchability.

• Too high and very low temperature in breeder houses also lower hatchability. • Hatchability is higher
in egg from younger flocks and vice versa. Eggs from birds between the age of 21 to 40 weeks hatch
well. • Eggs having abnormal shape, too small or extra large eggs, thin shelled eggs with poor internal
quality do not hatch well. • Faulty pre-incubation storage conditions for eggs reduce the hatchability

• Optimum temperature and humidity in incubator is most essential for desired hatchability. Abrupt
and frequent variation in these factors alters hatchability seriously. • The desire levels of oxygen and
carbon dioxide in incubator play major role in obtaining optimum hatchability seriously. • Inadequate
and faulty turning of eggs during incubation lower the hatchability. • Diseases which are vertically
transmitted lowers hatchability.

Incorrect Correct Settings: The reverse setting of eggs with narrow end up lower the hatchability