Genetic progress in poultry species for meat production has contributed to the consistent growth in world production of poultry meat. The poultry species have a number of advantages over the larger species used for meat production. It is possible to maintain large pedigreed populations and use their high reproductive rates to transfer genetic progress to the production generations in less than five years. These populations continue to maintain high heritabilities despite, in some cases, prolonged selection. The history of selection progress in broiler chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) is reviewed and compared with rates of progress in the duck (Anas platyrhyncos) and the turkey (Meleagris gallopavo).
The rates of genetic change for production traits such as growth, feed efficiency and yield have changed the physiology of the birds. Changes in selection criteria have been made to improve the robustness of the production stock. This allows them to perform well in a wider range of environments. These have been combined with improved definitions of the optimum environments for the birds to minimise any impact on welfare and health. This paper describes examples of selection in the broiler chicken aimed at improving skeletal quality and resistance to ascites. A number of the factors influencing future selection criteria are discussed. Breeding programmes have adapted to respond quickly to adverse genetic correlated responses. The need to combine selection for a large number of traits requires that the programmes are very efficient and use the best statistical techniques available for multivariate breeding value estimation.