Canadian Poultry Magazine

PIC Update: September 2011

By PIC   

Features Broilers Health Poultry Research

McGill university researchers have been evaluating the feasibility of monitoring early embryo development and egg fertility using hyperspectral imaging

In the hatching egg industry, up to 15 per cent of eggs are rejected due to various defects. Furthermore, hatchability is typically around eight per cent lower than fertility due to chick embryo loss during incubation. Infertile eggs can pose disposal as well as safety problems for hatcheries as they may explode in the incubator, potentially spreading mould or bacteria to all other eggs in the hatching cabinet. 

Weekly egg candling is a practice used in the hatching industry to help detect dead or infertile eggs. This method easily identifies clear eggs containing no living embryo, but may not be able to differentiate living from dead embryo, or bacteria-contaminated eggs.


The poultry industry would greatly benefit by having an efficient, non-destructive and accurate method for detecting the fertility and hatchability of eggs, especially at the transfer stage. Having such a tool could potentially save the industry millions of dollars each year by eliminating the need for labour-intensive candling, and preventing the unnecessary loss of eggs in the incubator.

Hyperspectral imaging is a technique that can be used to acquire special as well as spectral information from samples simultaneously, which is related to physio-chemical condition of samples. Such a technique can allow for monitoring of not only chemical changes associated with incubation inaccuracies, and discrimination between living and dead embryos, but also monitoring and classification of designer eggs with proteins of specific health benefits, and, potentially, determination of sex characteristics. This latter benefit would prevent the hatching and disposal of unwanted male chicks in the laying industry.

Dr. Michael Ngadi and his research team at McGill University have been evaluating the feasibility of monitoring early embryo development, discriminating between a living and a dead embryo, and detecting the chemical profile of chicken eggs using a rapid, non-invasive hyperspectral imaging system in the wavelength region between 400 and 1,700 nanometres. They examined fertile and non-fertile white leghorn eggs from the first day of lay until just before hatching.

Their findings?
The accuracy of discriminating between fertile and non-fertile eggs was 89 per cent at Day 0 (before incubation), and shot up to 96 per cent within 48 hours of incubation. The detection accuracy of dead embryos was up to 100 per cent within 48 hours of mortality. Further, an optimized wavelength for detecting fertile eggs was identified. This is the first time a high accuracy for predicting egg fertility was obtained.

Value-added antimicrobial agents

Featured Researcher: Dr. Max Hincke, University of Ottawa
By Kimberly Sheppard, Research Co-ordinator

In 2009, Canada produced 1.01 billion kilograms of chicken, 60 per cent of which was produced in Quebec and Ontario. One of the byproducts of the chicken industry is blood, which can be readily harvested at slaughter at a volume of up to 3.5 per cent of broiler live weight. During poultry slaughter, blood must be collected to keep it out of the waste stream, as it greatly increases the biochemical oxygen demand with severe environmental impact. Because blood must be collected regardless, it is preferable to utilize blood from slaughter operations for value-added uses.

Currently, poultry blood byproduct can be dried, ground and added to animal feed to increase protein content. It has also been assessed for manufacture of biological adhesive, but its properties are inferior to that of bovine blood product, for which there is a medicinal market. It would therefore be beneficial for the poultry industry to have a high-value product that can be produced from poultry blood.

Poultry blood is different – it contains red blood cells that have a nucleus and contain DNA in addition to the hemoglobin; this is a significant difference from mammalian blood, in which red blood cells are not nucleated. This difference means that chicken blood can be a source of histones, which, once purified and separated from DNA, can bind bacterial membranes and kill bacteria.

Recognizing that poultry blood has some characteristics that could be very valuable, Dr. Max Hincke and his research team at the University of Ottawa have been working toward producing a value-added use for it. In previous studies conducted by Hincke’s collaborators, histones purified from chicken liver and ovaries were found to be antimicrobial, suggesting that chicken erythrocyte histones might have the same property.  For the current research project they endeavoured to determine the different types of bacteria that are killed by chicken red blood cell histones, isolate and purify the active histone, and ultimately test whether the antimicrobial activity is stable to digestion by stomach enzymes.

Their findings? Histones purified from chicken red blood cells are highly active as antimicrobials, particularly against Gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. These promising results suggest that histones purified from chicken blood could potentially form the basis for a new antimicrobial additive to replace antibiotics, for example, those in animal feed. To read more about this project, please visit

 PIC’s Picks

By Tim Nelson, Executive Director
Making ‘cents’ from biosecurity

Because of the way we “non-farmers” talk about biosecurity, we tend to think about it as an isolated element within the farm. We bandy the term around as if biosecurity is something that we can see or touch and perhaps even buy. But, of course, it’s not that simple. Biosecurity is the product of all actions undertaken to prevent import or export of disease agents into a specific area – in this case, the farm. Biosecurity is just one of many complex and interrelated systems that constitute a 21st century farm.

PIC recently completed a series of interviews with poultry producers who were the recipients of Growing Forward Biosecurity Cost Share funds, granted to them to help improve biosecurity on their farms.

How the producers have used the money and the way in which they interpret what biosecurity means for their farm was different at each interview. However, the attitude towards the program and the improvements it has enabled or helped producers to make was consistently positive throughout.

Each farmer talked about increased operating efficiencies; for example, by having their own manure spreader, one farm no longer had to rely on contractors, neighbours or shared family equipment when spreading manure. The efficiency gain is the ability to spread manure when they’re ready to do it, when the time is right for them. The biosecurity benefit is not exposing their farm to the potential of disease coming into the farm on the shared spreader from another property.

Some farms have built anterooms. When preparing to enter a barn, an anteroom provides farm workers and catchers with a place to change into barn-specific clothes, and when they come back out, to get cleaned up. In a dedicated space with protection from the weather, this can be done more efficiently and effectively. Efficiencies are gained and biosecurity is maintained.

But it’s not only in the large-scale projects that the program has assisted farmers. On large and small farms across all sectors, the program has supported smaller projects: new entrance gates, gravel perimeters, bait stations, cement manure pads, in/out showers, vessel composters, parking barriers, enclosures for composting sites, combination locks, moveable gates, covers for deteriorating wall-blocks, medicators, water sanitation equipment, small on-farm accessories and more.

If you want to know what farmers think of the Growing Forward program, this quote sums it up,  “OMAFRA’s contribution to this is huge for the future… building up a good future for all of us.”  (Adrian Rehorst).

In summary, this is a very good program and one you, as a producer, really should take advantage of if you can get to any of the remaining 10 or so workshops between now and March 2012. For details of upcoming Growing Forward Biosecurity Cost Share workshops, contact OMAFRA at 1-888-479-3931 or e-mail

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