David Manly

David Manly

Apr. 22, 2013 - A signature sound of the farm is the rooster crowing as the sun rises to announce the start of the day. But why does the rooster crow? And how does he know when is the right time to do so?

Researchers at Nagoya University in Japan discovered that male birds do not need light cues in order to start crowing, but seem to "know" when it is the right time.

According to Dr. Takashi Yoshimura, who co-authored the study published in Current Biology, the crow itself is not a learned vocalization like human speech, but a more innate and natural sound that is controlled genetically (like a dog bark or a cat meow).

"We believe that chickens provide an excellent model for understanding this mechanism and we are now analyzing the genetic basis of rooster crowing," said Yoshimura.

During the course of their experiments, the researchers determined that crowing is not controlled by the presence of light, but by an internal mechanism. The mechanism is known as a circadian clock – a biochemical process that alternates between day and night cycles approximately every 24 hours and causes changes in behaviour, such as in sleeping and feeding patterns.

"To our surprise, nobody demonstrated the involvement of biological clock in this well-known phenomenon experimentally," added Yoshimura.

The experiment used a specific breed of rooster known as PNP, which were inbred and used in order to make all the test animals as similar as possible. Four of the animals were placed together, since roosters do not crow in isolation, in a light and sound-tight room and recorded experiencing 12 hours each of light and dim light conditions. The results showed that the animals did not crow as light broke, but a few hours earlier.

"The roosters usually crowed 2 or 3 hours before the sunrise (when it is still dark) under normal 24-hour cycle. We call this "anticipatory predawn crowing,"" he said.

In a secondary experiment, the researchers kept the roosters under 24 hours of dim light, and discovered that the animals internally adjusted their internal clocks to a slightly shorter day, approximately 23.8 hours. This caused what Yoshimura called "free-running rhythm of crowing" – the roosters crowed when they thought it was dawn, approximately 10-15 minutes earlier every day under dim light conditions.

The next step in Yoshimura's research is to identify the specific genes regulating rooster crowing, which is traditionally viewed as a warning signal advertising the males territory, as well as helps to determine social ranking.

Added Yoshimura, "Interestingly, our preliminary data suggest that the highest-ranked rooster has priority in breaking the dawn, and lower-ranked roosters are patient enough to wait and follow the highest-ranked rooster each morning."

In a cold-climate country like Canada, keeping your poultry barn heated is essential, not only to your flock, but also to all the other systems involved in keeping your birds happy and healthy. However, heating your barn can also be very expensive, especially when chicks are first placed in the large area and don’t quite utilize all the space that is available to them.

The Smart Air Wall, developed by the European company Sidijk (www.sidijk.com), can reduce overall heating costs associated with your barn by using an inflatable barrier to temporarily reduce square-footage. This can help lessen not only energy costs, but also the time and effort spent cleaning and walking the barn.

The wall is made of the same plastic used for children’s inflatable bouncing castles in parks and playgrounds, but simply takes a different shape. Sidijk is so reputable in the inflatable plastics business that the company has been retained to install the safety air rails for speed skating in Sochi, Russia, for the upcoming Olympic Games, according to Dave Loerchner, a sales representative for Smart Air Wall.

Loerchner spoke at a Poultry Industry Council event late last year about the possible benefits of the Smart Air Wall system for poultry producers. He began by saying that the wall is simply designed to minimize the amount of barn floor space needed for the chicks, thereby limiting the amount of heat and light needed to operate the whole barn.

“The whole idea of this is to condense your barn for approximately the first two weeks of your flock, when you are usually heating the whole barn to keep the chicks on the floor warm,” he said. “If you move them all up to the front 40 to 50 per cent of your barn . . .  it reduces your heating costs by up to 50 to 60 per cent, but will vary slightly from barn to barn.”

The double-lined plastic wall uses a standard 1.1-kilowatt fan on 220 volts to fill it with air, which acts as insulation between the two separated parts of the barn. And because it is plastic, Loerchner adds, it will fit perfectly along the floor and ceiling to make sure that no air (or errant chicks) will get through. In addition, there are flexible holes for feed and water lines that can be adjusted with no risk of air escaping.

While the initial cost can be high, he says that thanks to the cost savings on the heating bill, the Smart Air Wall can pay for itself within a few years.

There are a total of five barns currently using the system: three in Holland, one in Germany and one in Ontario.

Jon Steenbeek, who owns and operates the only Smart Air Wall system in Canada at his Ontario farm just south of Varna, has been using it since his first flock was placed in early 2012. According to Loerchner, Steenbeek used 42,081 litres of propane to heat his barn in one year.

But, with the Smart Air Wall system, Steenbeek only used 18,588 – a savings of almost 60 per cent – or over $10,000, based on a propane price of $0.45 per litre.

“That’s pretty significant dollar savings for only having the wall up for the first two weeks of the flock,” he says.

Mar. 20, 2013, Toronto, ON - The Ontario Medical Association is advising the federal and provincial governments to crack down on antibiotic use in farming.

The organization is focusing on the problem of resistance because, with increased use of antibiotics, more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to traditional antibiotics.

A policy paper drafted by the OMA says Ontario should ban the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in food animal production. Farmers currently feed antibiotics to healthy animals both to prevent them from becoming ill and to accelerate growth.

In addition, the paper also calls for more careful monitoring of when and how drugs are used on the farm, as well as limiting access to drugs to only when veterinarians write prescriptions, closing legal loopholes that allow farmers to import large quantities of antibiotics without surveillance or regulation, and tracking the levels of resistance across the country.

Many more tonnes of the drugs are used in agricultural operations than in human medicine and experts say the practice is fuelling development of resistance.

OMA President Dr. Doug Weir says Canada has been slower off the mark to act to protect antibiotics than countries in Europe and the United States.

Weir says Canadians do not appear to understand that if antibiotic use isn't curbed, the world faces a future in which some infections will be incurable.

The organization is also calling on the federal government to fund research and educational campaigns on the issue of antibiotic awareness.

Jan. 23, 2013 - Eggs are an important source of protein and a staple breakfast food, but with every egg eaten, a potentially useful source of energy storage is thrown away in the garbage – the shells.

David Miltlin's research group at the University of Alberta and the National Research Council's National Institute of nanotechnology have devised a way to create high performance electrochemical energy storage (known as supercapacitors) using low cost biowaste, such as eggshells.

According to Zhi Li, the postdoctoral researcher leading the project, the idea stemmed from reading about the structure and chemistry of eggshell membranes. Upon further investigation, the eggshell membranes obtained from the biowaste were found to be more efficient than the activated charcoal used in traditional supercapacitors.

"The eggshell membrane has a 3D network structure which allows fast electron transfer and therefore the carbonized eggshell membrane can work at much higher current than traditional activated carbons," he explained. In addition, the membranes have much more nitrogen functionalities compared to normal carbon materials, which allows the to store a much larger charge.

The process of creating the carbonized eggshell membrane is simple and scalable says Li: the first step is to carbonize the eggshell through a pyrolysis process at a temperature of 800 C. Then, it is activated in air at 300 C to generate micropores on the surface, which increase the surface area available to hold an electric charge.

A procedure is currently in development to produce the eggshell material at a more industrial scale. Beyond that, the next step is to commercialize the technology, as well as to find further application for the new material.

"We have demonstrated its application as electrode materials for a supercapacitor," said Li. "However, it is also a very interesting material for Lithium-ion batteries and electrochemical catalysis."

Jan. 23, 2013 - A group of scientists have announced the end of a yearlong moratorium on the controversial work to engineer and experiment on the H5N1 avian flu virus.

The initial work was halted early in 2012, when research was about to be published in the scientific journals Nature and Science. The research involved the flu virus mutating and being able to spread through the air (in this case, ferrets, a model for mammalian flu transmission).

In a letter published on January 23, 2013, the 40 scientists involved in the letter say that the moratorium should be removed – it has served its purpose and, as long as researchers take the necessary precautions, can be safe for the researchers and the general public.

"We believe what we do is safe," said Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison behind one of the two controversial studies from 2012. But, he cautioned that there is an inherent danger involved in this type of research, but that the potential benefits far outweigh the perceived risks.

The researchers that are involved with the letter say that the virus will continue to evolve in nature and research strategies need to be developed to deal with the eventual mutation of H5N1 to become airborne. Only by finding and understanding these mutations, obtaining more samples of the virus from mammals (not just birds) and expanding animal testing can answer these fundamental questions.

The letter continues: "Because H5N1 virus transmission studies are essential for pandemic preparedness and understanding the adaptation of influenza viruses to mammals, researchers who have the approval from their governments and institutions to conduct their research safely, under appropriate biosafety and biosecurity conditions, have a public-health responsibility to resume this important work."

In the U.S., no decision has been made regarding the conditions of H5N1 virus transmission research, so they will still fall under the moratorium until a decision is made. Canada has made a decision to pursue this type of research, but only under biosafety level 4 conditions, the highest caution.

The letter can be viewed in full here.

Dec. 19, 2012 - After a worldwide debate about the risks and rewards of pursuing research on H5N1 and a moratorium lasting almost a year on such research, it appears that some researchers may resume their experiments.

According to Nature News, experts from all over the world in research and public health met at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland to discuss the future of the work. The discussions will continue on the pros and cons of such research, but attendees are saying that the moratorium may be lifted at the discretion of the funders and the countries in which they are located.

In addition to that, the review will "put in place, for select experiments, an extra layer of review — in addition to peer review, and other standard safety and ethical reviews — by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)."

For more information on the potential revival of H5N1 research, please see the complete article on Nature News.

Dec. 6, 2012 - In response to a series of Salmonella outbreaks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have announced new guidelines for pathogen controls for manufacturers of raw ground turkey and chicken.

According to Food Safety News, the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) will help minimize contamination at risky parts of the production process and implement safety measures at these points. FSIS will also start verifying that manufacturers have updated their plans beginning in 90 days.

Salmonella testing will also be expanded to include comminuted poultry, that which has been "mechanically separated or deboned and then further chopped, flaked, minced or somehow reduced in particle size." In addition, FSIS will begin testing these products for Campylobacter contamination.

For more information on the FSIS annoucement, read the official policy statement here and the article on Food Safety News.

Dec. 4, 2012 - A new course will be starting in January 2013 at the University of Manitoba entitled "Advocacy and Animal Rights" focusing on food security and the ethics of meat production.

According to an article in The Manitoban, the idea came out of the recent E.coli O157:H7 contaimnation at Alberta's XL Foods back in September. The course will focus on the various questions that erupted from that crisis and its implications to the entire industry including the role of a union, the definiton of "consciousness" and the role of fatory farming.

For more information on the new course offered in January, please read the entire article from The Manitoban.

Although proper farming and biosecurity practices are extremely important, one factor that plays a significant role throughout the turkey’s development cycle often gets overlooked – its genetics.

Dr. Ben Wood, a geneticist with Hybrid Turkeys who spoke about turkey genetics at the Poultry Industry Council’s Spring Symposium on May 8, 2012, says that one of the most important aspects of turkey production is carefully selecting genetic traits to get the most out of each individual bird for the producer. But, it is more complicated than simply breeding two good-looking turkeys together.

Although selecting for increasing resistance to deadly pathogens, such as Salmonella or Campylobacter, may sound like an easy choice, Wood says that which traits are selected is ultimately decided by economics, and traits such as breast meat yield, finishing weight and overall meat yield are more economically important in comparison to overall mortality.

“We have to balance what we are selecting for,” he says. “It is quite easy and possible to select for health traits, but the economic return isn’t there. You could select for a lot of resistance, but you will have to give up selecting some other traits.”

By selecting for health traits, Wood explained that other commercial traits (such as meat yield) would not be able to respond as strongly to selection pressure, which would make them less desirable for farmers to grow.
“Producers will need to make a decision on what they are willing to sacrifice for specific traits.”

Genetics is key

Every trait has a specific heritability (or ability to be managed by artificial selection), which is determined by evaluating the interaction between the genetics of the individual and those of the environment. Although some traits, such as varus/valgus deformity and leg strength, have a very high heritability (between 30 and 40 per cent), overall survival is much lower, at about 10 per cent. That means that survival is much more influenced by environment factors than by leg strength.

“Survival is difficult to manage because of the low heritability, but it is fairly easy to measure, as what you are measuring is ‘did a bird live to or die at a certain age’ – so the cost of measuring that trait is pretty cheap,” Wood says. “But, if you are talking about a trait like varus/valgus of the legs, it is pretty easy to see, manage and measure. It is also highly heritable, so you can get a change in it pretty quickly.”

The procedure gets more complicated with a metabolic disorder such as TD (tibial chondrodysplasia), which requires X-rays and much more invasive methods than noting a turkey’s gait. So, although its heritability is high, it is more difficult to change because of increased manpower and monetary demands.

It comes down to a cost-benefit debate on how much demand there is to change a specific trait and how much money is available to fund such a change.

A perfect example of this is the research to help birds resist pathogens, which Wood says is extremely difficult because of biosecurity concerns once birds are infected. Because those birds would need to be quarantined as a control group, multiple farms with blood relatives of the control flock would need to be utilized and the resulting experiment would be extremely expensive.

Wood adds that university research (not under commercial conditions) has shown that specific resistance can be heritable, but it would be extremely difficult to scale up commercially.

Therefore, it would be better to select for innate immunity, he says, which is the first line of defence against all pathogens.

Data has shown that there is a genetic difference between pure line flocks, but further research is needed before changes in breeds are made.

Another research area that is showing promise is layer behaviour, which has a significant genetic component. By using a social interaction model, each bird’s reproductive potential is based on its own laying performance and those of its group, or cage mates. The “performance” of the groups was measured by looking at their laying ability and mortality due to pecking (the behaviour researchers were trying to reduce).

“If a single bird’s performance wasn’t that great, but its group mates did well, that meant that it was probably treating its group mates well by not pecking,” Wood explained. In effect, if one bird’s overall laying performance was sub-par, but the overall mortality from pecking in that group was decreased compared to the control, then the breeding value of all the individuals in that group/cage was higher.

However, the reverse can also be true, where one bird does well but the overall group does poorly, with the result being that the overall breeding value for that group would decrease. Therefore, if both groups were compared over successive generations, a change should appear in their genetics for a decrease in pecking that breeders would then be able to select for or against.

Taking a closer look

The next step of this research, according to Wood, will be a focus on Genome-wide Association Studies (GWAS), which can provide cheaper case-control studies on everything from survivability to pathogen resistance by taking a closer look at precise DNA changes.

This is done by taking blood samples from a selection of birds, both control and experimental, and comparing observations with areas of their DNA known as single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs (pronounced “snips”). This results when a single DNA nucleotide changes between related individuals, representing, hopefully, a genetic change in a specific trait; thus, this information could have profound effects on breeding programs.

“You’re relying on initial observations to find out the differences at the DNA level, but then you can go back and look into any population at all and either select for or against it,” says Wood.

“The next thing is looking at genomic selection and selecting against certain syndromes, as well as behaviours.”

Nov. 8, 2012 - Many commercial operations, both small and large, are steadily increasing the amount of automation done by machines and therefore heavily rely on a consistent flow of power. But, when the running of a business depends on electricity, failures and downtime can be extremely expensive.

Nuvolt (www.nuvolt.ca) has created a novel way to detect such failures before they happen, using its SmartScan Pro technology - remote sensors that analyze electrical data in real-time and inform the user of its status and upcoming problems from motors and other electrical devices.

Jacques Dion, the president and CEO of Nuvolt, says that early detection and preventative maintenance of electrical systems are key to any successful operation.

The technology was designed for mass-market use in commercial buildings, assembly lines and tool equipment manufacturing. However, Dion says that he has received a large amount of interest from industry, heavy manufacturing, commercial shipping corporations and most recently, poultry processing plants.

Last month, Nuvolt reached an agreement with Unidindon, the largest turkey processing plant in Canada, to outfit their St-Jean Baptists-de-Rouville, QB plant with SmartScan Pro technology.

"In a chicken plant, the concern is not the value of the motor, it is when the motor goes down and the down-time associated with fixing it," says Dion.

The technology will not only help prevent equipment failure, but also increase production rates and reduce energy costs, all through the constant monitoring and logging of real-time information from each electrical device provided by SmartScan technology, he adds.

"A yellow flag will showcase an upcoming problem on a specific motor, but they do not have to react promptly; it is not a fire, as it is a predictive system. If the situation deteriorates, an orange flag will say that the situation is getting worse and that problem should be fixed. The third warning will show a red flag, which means it will be going down soon."

With a cable or a motor, temperature can rapidly build and cause a fire or even an explosion. Therefore, early detection and prevention is key. According to Dion, while breakers can prevent such an incident, they break at 75 amps (A), when the damage has already been done. "SmartScan Pro technology can detect as low at 200 mA," he says. "Therefore, as soon as the issue starts, the system has the capacity to detect, analyze and inform the end user."

The next stage of development for Nuvolt, says Dion, is to create a smaller sensor, reduce its weight and be able to monitor up to 600 HP motors (current capacity only allows up to a 75 HP motor), as well as branch off into the transportation and aviation industry.

But, the hope is to eventually create a cheap sensor that can be embedded during manufacturing in all sorts of electrical equipment he says, from fridges to water heaters, to help customers monitor and control their electricity usage.

"This way, you could control your energy in your house, so the power company will only charge you for what you use."

Nov. 8, 2012, Annapolis Valley, NS - A family-owned business in the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia has received a multimillion-dollar provincial loan tto help facilitate its expansion.

According to an article from The Chronicle Herald, an provincial cabinet order-in-council, under the Agriculture and Rural Credit Act, approved a $4.5 million repayable loan to Seaview Poultry Ltd. of Port Williams to help construct an updated livestock facility.

Oct. 30, 2012, Winnipeg, MB - During a city council meeting where the subject of urban poultry farming was discussed, councillors were treated to a wide array of advocates making statements in a variety of ways - including one individual bringing a live chicken.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, city councillors have asked Animal Services to consider the potential ramifications of allowing urban poultry farming in Winnipeg. More than two dozena dvocates were present, including former council candidate Louise May, who brought a live chicken.

Committee chairwoman Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) quickly asked security to remove May after the hen was presented at the podium. Havixbeck has stated her concerns on the health risks with urban poultry farming and wants Animal Services to discuss with academics about the risks of influenza.

For more on the issue, please see the complete article from the Winnipeg Free Press.

Oct. 29, 2012, Hay River, NWT - A new egg-grading facility has opened in Hay River, which will allow residents of the Northwest Territories to buy local eggs.

According to CBC News, the lack of such a facility in Hay River meant that all the eggs needed to be shipped to British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba to be graded and sold. Once in full production, Hay River Poultry Farms will produce 30 million eggs annually in both northern and southern markets.

“I'm really excited about this, I think it's a positive step forward for the egg industry and is really positive for our community as well,” said Andrew Cassidy, Hay River's incoming mayor. “We're going to be able to have made-in-the-Northwest Territories eggs on store shelves in the North before too too long."

For more on the new Hay River egg-grading facility, please read the full article on CBC News.

Oct. 22, 2012 - The growth of turkeys in the United States has increased in 2012, says a new USDA report.

According to the latest USDA Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, turkey meat production has increasing 5.7 per cent from last year. The report states that not only was production up by 5.7 per cent, but the amount of turkeys slaughtered was 3.8 per cent higher and average weight showed an increase of 1.3 per cent.

However, poult placements and turkey eggs in incubators were down by 1.7 and 6.3 per cent, respectively.

For more on the state of the US turkey industry, please read the full USDA report here.

Oct. 17, 2012, Berwick, NS - Eden Valley has completed the retrofit of the former Larsen's pork processing plant at a cost of approximately $40 million into a poultry processing plant for Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

According to the Daily Business Buzz, the project was announced in April 2011 and will employ 180 staff.

“This is something everybody has been anxiously waiting for," said Alexis Grant, economic development co-ordinator for Berwick and area. “It’s great news to us as far as our tax base for the town… to have a new processing facility running.”

For more information on the plant's new life with Eden Valley (a venture between Ontario's maple Lodge Farm and United Poultry Producers Incorporated), please see Daily Business Buzz.

Oct. 10, 2012, Armstrong, BC - A local poultry farmer would like the provincial government to allow farmers to slaughter their own animals, in order to better secure against biosecurity threats.

Accoding to an article by the CBC, Andrea Gunner (an agricultural economist and poultry producer), believes that large-scale farms are the problem.

"As line processing speeds increase, the food quality itself decreases," she said. "And there are tons of studies, throughout the world, that show that."

Gunner adds that small-scale procesing provides easier ways to catch contamination.

For more information, please see the complete article on CBC.

Oct. 10, 2012, Ottawa, ON - Canada has officially joined Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) trade talks in early December of this year, which could result in major changes to Canadian dairy, egg and poultry farmers.

According to an article from The Globe and Mail, the nations involved (the U.S., Australia, Chilie, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei and Mexico) comprise 68 million people and their combined economic output exceeds $20.5 trillion.

However, since a condition of joing the TPP talks was that members had to be able to put all aspects of trade (including supply management in Canada) on the table for negotiation. This has worried dairy, egg and poultry farmers that changes or complete removal of supply management could happen, despite the government's assurance.

The TPP talks will begin December 3-12, 2013 in Aukland, New Zealand.

For more information on the potential ramification of Canada participating in the TPP talks, please visit The Globe and Mail.

Oct. 4, 2012 - With Canada's largest meat recall continuing to expand, Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors say that a large issue was that they could not get key information promptly from XL Foods after detecting E. coli  in its beef, resulting in a nearly two-week delay.

According to an article by Rod Nickel from Reuters, the investigation began on September 4th, but the information from XL Foods was not received until September 11th. And meat from the plant was not recalled due to the contamination until September 16th, which now involves more than 1,500 products.

"There was a delay in getting it," George Da Pont, president of the CFIA, said in a press conference at a CFIA laboratory in Calgary, Alberta. "We have limited authority to compel immediate documentation."

For more information, please see the complete Reuters article.

Sept. 21, 2012 - Customers in B.C. that head over the border and buy eggs are costing the B.C. economy millions of dollars in lost revenue.

According to Global Television in B.C., around two million eggs are brough in from the U.S. every year and the B.C. Egg Marketing Board estimates a $3.1 million loss to the gross domestic product of the province.

Therefore, the board is launching a campaign entitled "Eggonomics" to educate consumers about purchasing staple foods in another country.

For more information, please visit Global Television.

Sept. 20, 2012, Washington, DC - The U.S. National Organic Program has published a final rule that extends the allowance of synthetic methionine in organic poultry production. The rule will allow, for laying and broiler chickens, 2 pounds per ton of feed, while turkets and other poultry can receive 3 pounds.

According to an article on Agri-Pulse, this rule addresses the second of a two-part recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board. Part one came into effect October 2010 and allowed producers to prepare for lower levels in feed.

The decision was made because "the National Organic Standards Board determined that while wholly natural substitute products exist, they are not presently available in sufficient supplies to meet poultry producer needs. Therefore, some allowance for synthetic methionine is necessary to comprise a nutritionally adequate diet for organic poultry."

The ruling will come into effect on October 2, 2012.

For more on the rule change, please read the complete article on Agri-Pulse.

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