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LRIC Update: The Poultry Health Research Network

Working together for industry progress.

January 23, 2019
By Lilian Schaer

Speakers from a PHRN Research Day, including the group’s founder Shayan Sharif (sixth from left) and co-ordinator Dr. Ravi Kulkarni (first on right).

Canada’s poultry industry has complex research needs. Chicken, egg and turkey producers as well as breeders, hatcheries and processors all face their own challenges and demands.

At the same time, though, there are larger issues that affect everyone, such as antibiotic use or gut health, for example, where resources and knowledge could be pooled for common benefit.

And that’s what gave University of Guelph poultry researcher and pathobiology department chair, professor Shayan Sharif the idea of creating the Poultry Health Research Network (PHRN).

“Our goal is to promote poultry research for the benefit of the industry by creating a pool of poultry researchers, health specialists and industry experts to serve as a poultry hub,” explains PHRN co-ordinator Dr. Ravi Kulkarni, who joined the network in 2015.

Although it started as a Guelph-focused initiative, PHRN’s membership has spread Canada-wide and internationally to the United Kingdom.

“By establishing communications, we want to identify key issues the industry faces and then form teams and research groups from across the industry to help find solutions,” Kulkarni adds.

He cites the phasing out of antibiotics in poultry production as a key example of the coordinating role PHRN can play. Through consultation with producers, Poultry Industry Council, Canadian Poultry Research Council, national chicken, egg and turkey farmer associations, Canadian Animal Health Institute and poultry experts, PHRN identified gut health as a major health issue linked to reduced antibiotic use.

This resulted in an entire research day of expert presentations and panel discussions focused specifically on gut health that attracted over 100 participants from research, industry, producers and government.

PHRN also takes an active role in promoting poultry research education and bringing together researchers from different faculties – from animal bioscience to engineering and computer science – who work on poultry research but may not know each other.

Kulkarni maintains the PHRN website, which houses an events calendar, research portal of news stories about poultry research and fact sheets about common poultry industry diseases and challenges.

“The whole idea is to provide increased accessibility to our resources in online searches related to poultry,” he explains, adding that PHRN has also become one of the top poultry research sources on Twitter due to regular tweets about various aspects of poultry health, nutrition, management and research.

Monthly seminars about key poultry research topics are also recorded and posted online on  YouTube.

On the research side, PHRN has helped form research clusters to co-ordinate targeted research for solving problems relevant to the industry. Kulkarni also attends industry meetings as part of efforts to build collaborative links between industry and researchers.

PHRN’s future focus is on building stronger outreach with producers, developing more resources for students and young poultry farmers and securing additional funding to support the network’s activities.

“At the end of the day, we want to see how we can direct our research to areas that are directly helpful for the industry – we want to be a go-to place for anything related to poultry,” Kulkarni says.

Lilian Schaer is a freelance writer and editor and communications specialist with Agri-Food Project Services Ltd. in Guelph, Ont.