The major causes of leg weakness/lameness were investigated in two male commercial broiler flocks. The numbers of dead and lame birds culled from the flocks each day were recorded by the flock managers. Forty-four lame birds and 22 sound birds were examined postmortem during a period of six weeks and the proximal and distal end of each femur, tibiotarsus and tarsometatarsus were examined histologically. Attempts were made to isolate bacteria and viruses from the proximal end of each femur. Blood samples were examined for antibodies to chicken anaemia virus (CAV), infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV) and Mycoplasma species. Bacterial chondronecrosis with osteomyelitis was identified in the proximal end of the femur of eight of the 44 lame birds, and in the proximal end of the tibiotarsus of a further bird (20.4 per cent). Gram-positive bacteria were present in all the lesions. Staphylococcus aureus was recovered from 62.5 per cent of the lesions confirmed by histology. Bacterial chondronecrosis associated with S aureus has thus been identified as an important cause of leg weakness in these commercial broilers. Lesions suggestive of the condition were visible macroscopically in only 11.1 per cent of the cases subsequently diagnosed by histology and bone histology is therefore required before a diagnosis can be excluded. Angular limb deformities (13.6 per cent) and spondylolisthesis (11.4 per cent) were the most common macroscopic lesions identified as causes of lameness. The overall incidence of tibial dyschondroplasia was similar in both the lame and sound broilers, but severe lesions were found only in lame birds (4.5 per cent).
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