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Selecting for Efficiency

Growers want to look at the most balanced


October 31, 2008
By By Technical Services Cobb-Vantress Inc.

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Growers want to look at the most balanced of the genetics available


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 There is no such thing as a “perfect” breed.  Broiler producers want to look at the most balanced of the genetics available: a bird that will return the best profit (or least cost) overall.


Since the early 1980s, the primary breeder genetics staff at Cobb-Vantress have collected and analyzed data on reliable bird performance from a large number of individual birds, focusing on efficiency.

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Broiler growout test facilities, constructed with the capability of controlling environmental variables, afforded accurate control of the environment and enabled birds to compete against each other while exposing individual bird differences – not as a response to varying external influences, but rather due to genetics.  Efficient growth rate became the selection driver and feed conversion ratio (FCR) became the trait with the greatest economic importance.  Feed conversion showed moderate to high heritability and was predicted to respond to genetic selection year after year. 

Full testing in the pedigree programs resulted in a measureable improvement in the field performance.  This advantage in feed conversion was recognized by customers and led to the full commercialization of the modern broiler breeder. 

Individual bird testing identified those birds with both exceptional feed efficiency and muscle deposition. The focus was on recognizing birds that had good appetites and could be the most efficient in converting grain nutrients into meat.  Fine tuning created genetic lines with the ability to grow quickly while maintaining the lowest cost per kilogram or pound of live weight produced – a sustainable advantage for customers.

The advantages that have been realized in the last 25 years are now proving even more valuable in light of what is perhaps the most challenging time in the history of the poultry industry. The rapid rise in the cost of grains and other feedstuffs during the last two years makes growth efficiency critical.  The broiler grower needs a bird that will grow quickly to maximize facility use, convert feed to meat as efficiently as possible and do this while using a ration that is affordable. 

All of these economic advantages put additional revenue into the pocket of the producer.  In addition, the processing advantage of a better yield, for both eviscerated whole birds and breast meat percentage, is critical if the best return is to be gained for the processor.

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Figure 1 (left): An example of the cost difference between two different breeds
Figure 2: (right) Example of a broiler trial comparing a lower density/lower cost ration to a more expensive, higher ration designed for maximum broiler performance.


Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “perfect” breed.  At one end of the genetic selection scale there is the Leghorn bird, bred specifically for producing large numbers of eggs, which could be as many as 300 eggs per hen per year.  This bird is very thin and has almost no value for meat production.  At the other extreme is the meat-type bird which has tremendous amounts of breast meat yield but gains this at the expense of egg production. Broiler producers want to look at the most balanced of the genetics available: a bird that will return the best profit (or least cost) overall, beginning with the purchase of breeder pullets, and following all the way through broiler processing.

Figure 1 is an example of two popular meat-type breeds and the resulting added value to the producer. In this example, a producer grows seven crops  of broilers per year with an average beginning size of 16,143 chicks.1 

Constant selection has allowed the development of a bird that is not only excellent in converting feed to meat, but also has the capability to efficiently utilize less expensive ingredients – or utilize a lower density of the feedstuffs available.  A balanced bird will lose very little growth rate with reductions in feed density, due to its extraordinary ability to consume feed in all environmental conditions. This means a slightly higher FCR but in almost every case still means more profitability due to lower feed costs per tonne.

Figure 2 is a recap of a broiler trial by Cobb in the U.K. comparing a lower density/lower cost ration to a more expensive, higher density ration designed for maximum broiler performance.2

When the combined efficiencies of feed conversion (Figure 1) are coupled with the ration formulation savings (Figure 2), we see that an annual benefit to an average-sized producer could approach $11,000.  This would be a nice advantage with today’s grain prices, which are predicted to stay high or even increase as world supplies of grain are depleted.

1 Flock size numbers were calculated from actual field numbers
   for broilers grown in Canada.
2 Performance numbers from the trial are combined with the
   size of an average flock in Canada, as well as the feed prices
   of Canadian feed rations.


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