Canadian Poultry Magazine

Features Breeders
Poultry Genetics: Breeding progress

A roundup of the latest broiler, layer and turkey breeding trends.

November 27, 2019
By Treena Hein

Hendrix Genetics’ Dekalb white laying hens, along with the firm’s Bovans, ISA, Babcock and Shaver, are selected through genomics and in the latest technologies like egg-vision, robotics and RFID to track individual birds in group housing.

Livestock breeding is always evolving. And with innovations like gene editing on the horizon, genetic advancements are set to reach new heights. That’s why Canadian Poultry approached major breeding firms to get the latest on the traits available in Canada, as well as current and future breeding goals.

Part one below presents the newest offerings currently on the market, with an emphasis on broiler breeding for production with reduced use of preventative antibiotics. Part two, coming in the December issue, looks at what’s ahead in poultry breeding and why.

Hybrid Turkeys’ bird portfolio is much more diverse than it was a decade ago. “Breeding goals and, thus, the products that used to be primarily sold were very focused on economic factors for either the hatchery or the grower,” Hybrid Turkeys marketing manager Blair McCorriston explains.


“More and more, the breeding goals are influenced by processors and final consumers. This is where you see the branching out into the alternative and specialty products with different breeding goals and different production expectations.”

Currently available in Canada from Hybrid Turkeys (besides Artisan, a slow-growing black turkey for niche markets) is one turkey from the firm’s core product portfolio, a grouping that offers a “precise balance between economic and welfare traits”.

The Hybrid Converter is described as an all-around strong performer and the most widely used turkey strain in the world, with leading feed conversion, flexible processing weights and the ability to thrive in multiple climates and management systems.

“More and more, the breeding goals are influenced by processors and final consumers.”

Two turkeys from Hybrid’s alternative portfolio are also available in Canada. This grouping balances the economics of a commercial turkey strain while maintaining the characteristics of a traditional breed, allowing commercial producers to diversify.

The Orlopp Bronze offers “high-quality meat with natural fat layering for superior flavour,” and “delivers competitive feed conversion and excellent conformation paired with industry-leading health status.” The MiniCLASSIC delivers the qualities of a classic, commercial bird in a smaller size.

Aviagen’s Nicholas Select turkey is widely used in Canada and the U.S. for light hens, heavy hens and heavy tom production. Aviagen Turkeys’ marketing and administration director Sandi Hofmann notes that this bird stands out as a leader in the industry for yield, and that its yield is increasing at an annual rate of 0.25 per cent.

“Another strength of the Nicholas Select is feed efficiency,” Hofmann says. “Field trend shows a regression line of three points’ improvement in feed conversion per year over a period of 10 years.” Altogether, the firm’s pedigree lines have a livability increase rate of 0.2 per cent per year.

Hendrix Genetics’ current laying hen offerings are marketed under the brands Dekalb, Bovans, ISA, Babcock and Shaver. These birds are efficient, healthy and highly productive, says product manager Teun Van de Braak, producing eggs with excellent shell quality even in later stages of life.

Genomic selection and technologies like visioning systems, robotics, RFID to track individual birds (see more about this in the December issue) and longer testing cycles of up to 100 weeks have significantly improved the efficiency and accuracy of Hendrix’s selection process.

“Clear progress of our products is demonstrated by the different independent random sample tests,” Van de Braak says. “North Carolina State University trials is a great example, where our products clearly outperform their competitors, both in conventional cages or cage-free.”

The W-80 is Hy-Line International’s layer offering in the Canadian market. “It is achieving a reputation for maximum output of eggs of up to 329.7 at 72 weeks,” says global marketing manager Brittney Roorda, “and the ability to produce on low-density feeds.”

In addition, the W-80 egg weight is able to remain in the range of 60 to 63 grams to the end of lay. The outstanding feather cover throughout the life of this hen, Roorda adds, means food energy consumed is put into egg production.

Roorda says Hy-Line layers are active in finding the nest in alternative systems but are also bred to exhibit positive social behaviours within a flock. “This allows the highest rates of livability and fully feathered birds to complete the laying cycle,” she says. “Under good conditions, flocks may reach the end of cycle with 97 per cent livability.”

Excellent feather cover is also a trait of the Hy-Line Brown egg-layer. It offers “unrivaled feed efficiency and superior egg colour and quality,” Roorda says. It also has a docile temperament, which allows this bird to adapt “particularly well to free-run housing systems.”

Lohmann provides white and brown layers, such as the LSL Lite white bird. Lohmann’s most important traits in layer breeding are high egg number, good early egg size, feed conversion and shell quality.

The Hubbard Efficiency Plus is Hubbard’s newest conventional offering, just released this summer in the Canada and globally, with some parent flocks previously placed in the Americas, Africa and Asia.

Global marketing manager Paul Van Boekholt notes that results of internal company trials show that the Hubbard Efficiency Plus breeder and broiler offer high numbers of good-quality hatching eggs and a high volume of good quality live weight/saleable meat, all at a low cost of production.

Van Boekholt says broiler markets around the world are differentiating, and that Hubbard’s Premium breeds therefore offer a variety of colour, growth rate and other attributes for different markets. These include organic, Label Rouge, 56 or 81-day free-range, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Assured in the U.K., Beter Leven and Chicken of Tomorrow in the Netherlands, as well as the Global Animal Partnership in North America and Broiler Ask in Europe.

Hubbard has been selecting slower-growing broiler breeds for more than 50 years, Van Boekholt says, and the firm is also breeding to address worldwide market demands for a large liveweight range. He adds that Hubbard’s R&D investments have resulted in their Premium broilers being more productive and efficient to keep the price of their meat “close enough” to conventional products.

Hubbard also has a high focus on feed conversion rate (FCR), as this is the single most important cost in broiler production. On average, Hubbard achieves a genetic gain of two to three points FCR per year.

Aviagen currently offers the Ross 308 and Ross 708 broilers in Canada, with the former launched around 1985 and the latter in 2004. The Ross 308 breeder produces a high number of eggs with good hatchability, and the Ross 308 broiler is recognized globally for consistent performance with growth rate, feed efficiency and more.

Similarly, Ross 708 parent stock offers maximized breeder performance with efficient meat production. “The 708 broiler is known for the best breast meat yield and overall yield in the market as well as excellent breast meat quality,” says Aviagen marketing communications manager Wendy Parker.

The Cobb500 is Cobb-Vantress’ main broiler product in Canada. It provides “superior performance on lower cost feed rations, excellent growth rate,” and other traits.

Addressing reduced use of antibiotics
Overall health, generally known as robustness, is a very important broiler breeding goal for all breeding companies at this point in time, as the preventative use of antibiotics has been reduced in Canada and elsewhere.

“With antibiotic-free [production] systems, a robust gut and immune function will be essential to protect the bird from a range of environmental challenges,” Parker says. “This component of the bird robustness is a key component of [Aviagen’s] the current breeding strategy.”

In terms of how Hubbard measures robustness in its breeding programs, and how easy or difficult it is to measure and change genes associated with better gut and immune function, Vanboekholt notes that robustness is a multifactorial trait with many genes involved. “In our breeding program,” he says, “we measure, amongst others, many traits like liveability, leg strength, gait score, footpad lesions and hock burn.”

Breeding trend summary
The following is a summary of breeding trends related to broilers, turkey and layers available in Canada.


  • Product differentiation to meet consumer demands for things like different growth rates.
  • Focus on feed conversion rates due to the cost of feed.
  • Focus on robustness, including strong gut and immune system function, to help broilers thrive with reduced preventative use of antibiotics.


  • Market differentiation is also a trend, as is strong feed conversion rate.


  • As always, hens are being bred for consistent egg output and quality.
  • A current breeding focus is ensuring hens perform well in all housing systems.