Owing to the higher demands for avoiding medication and antibiotics, health status of the production animals plays an important role in the poultry industry, especially in organic poultry systems. Immunity plays a major role in keeping the host free from disease, and it is evident that the host's genetic make-up influences immunity and disease resistance/susceptibility in chickens. Previously, breeding strategies aimed at selection for resistance against specific diseases with the risk of creating less disease resistance against other pathogens. Changing breeding strategies towards selection of chickens with a more general and broad disease resistance or robustness may therefore improve the overall health status, animal welfare, and food security in the poultry production. The aim of this study was therefore to compare the immunocompetence of the presumed "robust" Hellevad chickens with two chicken lines widely used in organic production, Bovans Brown (Bovans) and Hisex White (Hisex). The chickens were subjected to a routine vaccination program comprising one parasite and four viral vaccines. The current study indicates that considerable differences in immunocompetence may exist between commercial layer lines used in organic production. The Hellevad chickens were found to have higher body weight at the end of the experiment (17 weeks of age) than the other two lines. Furthermore, Hellevad and Hisex chickens were found to have higher levels of humoral innate immunity with regard to sample to positive ratio of natural antibodies in serum and concentration of mannose-binding lectin in serum as compared to Bovans. Moreover, indications of an inflammatory response were observed in the Bovans at week 5, corresponding to 1 week after vaccination with live infectious bursal disease virus. With regard to adaptive immune parameters such as IgY concentration in blood and infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV)-specific antibody titres, the Hellevad and Hisex chickens had lower levels than the Bovans. How the differences observed in growth and immune parameters in the three chicken lines influence the immune protection against infection needs to be studied further.
Bovans brown; Chicken; Hellevad chicken; Hisex white; Immunocompetence