Guelph's poultry nutrition research focused on producers

Lilian Schaer, for LRIC
April 30, 2018
By Lilian Schaer, for LRIC
Elijah Kiarie (fifth from left) surrounded by his research team.
Elijah Kiarie (fifth from left) surrounded by his research team.
Elijah Kiarie has a strong interest in the gut health of livestock, especially poultry and swine. He’s also passionate about teaching, mentoring students and delivering research that is meaningful to farmers. That combination along with a connection to renowned University of Guelph swine researcher Dr. Kees de Lange, brought Kiarie to Guelph in January 2016 as McIntosh Family professor in poultry nutrition.

Originally from Kenya, Kiarie holds a PhD from the University of Manitoba and most recently worked for DuPont Pioneer, focusing on feed enzymes and probiotics for poultry and pigs.

“I always had as my ultimate goal to come back to academia to teach and mentor students and to do research for farmers,” he explains. “The poultry industry needs skilled, trained people and I count myself very lucky to be here working with the poultry industry and getting this research program established.”

According to Kiarie, government and industry have been incredibly supportive with funding and helping establish his program, and his research team now includes six master’s and three PhD students, two post doctorial and one research technician. He also teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses.

To make sure his program addresses farmer needs, he worked with Poultry Industry Council to establish priority theme areas. He also ensures his students regularly have opportunities to interact directly with poultry producers so they can understand their questions and the challenges they face.

Keeping birds healthy and productive without using antibiotics is a key research area. This means evaluating the performance and benefits of feed ingredients like probiotics and essential oils.

“Antibiotics prevent subclinical conditions that we don’t see but affect profitability, so we need new ways to keep gut diseases under control,” he says. “In a typical poultry product, 60 to 70 per cent of the production cost is feed, and only about 80 per cent of a typical Ontario poultry ration is digested by the bird, creating opportunities for pathogens to grow and damage the gut.”

The team is also looking at very broad gut health issues, like evaluating how much fibre birds can consume in order to have a properly functioning gizzard. It’s the gizzard that controls feed flow to the lower gut and without it working properly, birds experience digestion issues.

Kiarie says because conventional poultry feed is very fine, it keeps the gizzard from developing. Problems like feather pecking are also often expressed when birds are seeking to consume something with structure.

A big focus area is improving feed ingredients, such as evaluating new high protein distiller’s dried grains (DDGs) and the potential of insect meal as a replacement for soybean meal. Initial work with insect protein, for example, has shown an increase in egg shell quality – could it also have a beneficial impact on osteoporosis in layers and broilers?  

Ammonia remains a problem in poultry production. Kiarie’s team is investigating whether increasing amino acids and lowering protein in poultry diets could help reduce the amount of ammonia-causing nitrogen birds excrete.

“We are also evaluating new feed additives and breeder nutrition innovations to improve gut and skeletal systems in poultry,” he adds.

Funding for Kiarie’s research programs stem from the Livestock Research Innovation Corporation, OMAFRA-University of Guelph partnership, Egg Farmers of Ontario, Egg Farmers of Canada, Canadian Poultry Research Council, Ontario Centres of Excellence, Natural Science and Engineering Research Council, and private industry.

For more on Kiarie and his team’s nutrition and gut health research, read the February/March 2018 edition of Canadian Poultry magazine.


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

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