Poultry Research

March 4, 2015 - Prairie Diagnostic Services Inc. will receive $549,278 from Ottawa for new equipment to "expand and modernize'" its testing efficiency. Brad Trost, MP for Saskatoon-Humboldt, said the funding will help veterinarians, livestock and feed producers and exporters to be able to better ensure Canada's food safety both domestically and abroad. He says the new equipment will help with bacteriology, toxicology, pathology and food testing. The Leader Post reports. 

Published in Health

February 18, 2015 - Dr. Ravi Kulkarni is the new co-ordinator for the Poultry Health Research Network (PHRN). He will use his background and experience in academia and industry to further the PHRN’s objective of establishing a cross-disciplinary network of poultry researchers and health specialists. His research expertise and interests are in poultry health, disease and vaccines. READ MORE 

Published in Researchers

January 23, 2015 - By tracking the genetic footprints of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, researchers funded by the US Department of Agriculture are hoping to shed some light on the extent to which in-feed antibiotics contribute to resistance. READ MORE

Published in Nutrition and Feed

January 8, 2015 - The Poultry Science Association Foundation Board of Trustees has approved guidelines for their first-ever funded undergraduate internship program, the Andrew F. Giesen III Poultry Science Undergraduate Internship. 

This internship is designed to match outstanding life sciences undergraduates interested in exploring career options in poultry science with companies and organizations that produce or are otherwise affiliated with the poultry industry.

This internship award program is designed to attract bright young scientists to learn first-hand how science and technology is applied in solving the challenges of meat and egg production in the modern day poultry industry.

Funding for these internship awards was donated to the PSA Foundation by Giesen's family, friends and Novus International, in memory of his contributions to the industry as a Past President and Fellow of the Poultry Science Association (PSA), Past President of the Federation of Animal Science Societies, and a career-long contributor to the poultry industry as an employee of Novus International, Inc.

Applications will be accepted electronically through the PSA website (www.poultryscience.org) until March 1st for the first set of internships to be awarded in the summer of 2015. Applicants should review the internship award guidelines for directions on how to apply.

Companies and organizations that are interested in being matched with outstanding undergraduates in the life sciences should also review the award guidelines and may contact Jon Cole, PSA Director of Business Operations, at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Published in Researchers


Poultry producers have become interested in being involved in on-farm trials to test research discoveries in a commercial production setting. Although conducting research trials in specialized facilities that mimic commercial circumstances is common, they may not provide the variety of conditions that would be found on commercial farms.

Research is designed to further the poultry industry and ensure its long-term viability, and trials on commercial operations are important to meet those objectives. However, on-farm research trials require compromises on the part of the poultry producer. Risks that may have a negative impact on production or product quality are part of all research. Producers have to be aware of potential production and other risks that might result from a research trial on their farm and discuss how those risks will be managed with the researcher.

Poultry producers commit to an on-farm trial for the length of the research project. Generally, research is conducted by changing one or several normal production activities (such as feed formulation, reduction in antibiotics, etc.) and then measuring how the changes impact the research flock. The research flock is then compared to other flocks that are produced under the farm’s normal method of production (control flocks). Changes in flock management or other production activities (feed formulation, lighting, etc.) cannot be made to either the research or control flocks during the research period without consultation with the researcher. Small production or management changes need to be accounted for in the measurement of research impacts, and significant changes can completely derail the project, leading to wasted money and effort.

Poultry producers who want to take part in on-farm trials can take the following steps to ensure that their experience is positive:

  • Talk to other farmers that have been involved in on-farm research trials. What was their experience? How did they prepare? How was the communication with the researcher? What should they have done differently?
  • Remember that researchers are not commercial poultry farmers. While they may be very knowledgeable about poultry, few will have a good understanding of how a commercial poultry farm operates.
  • Ensure that the research is at an appropriate stage for on-farm trials. Talk to the researcher and industry specialists (provincial poultry specialists, producer organization staff) to make sure that an on-farm trial is the next step in the research process. This strategy will reduce the risk of failure or unexpected production problems.
  • Ensure that communication is “two-way” so that the researcher understands how the project requirements may impact the poultry farm operations and management. Compromises may have to be made by both the farmer and researcher to meet both production and research requirements. Research is a specialized and very structured activity and a producer must have a clear understanding of researcher expectations so potential issues are identified.
  • Make sure that research requirements are clearly understood by management and that staff are aware of their responsibilities to the project.
  • Develop a clear risk-management plan to ensure that problems are identified early, the research team is quickly made aware of a developing problem and the farm business is not unduly damaged if problems occur. The risk-management plan should include details of compensation if the research trials cause negative financial impacts on the farm business.

On-farm research trials are important to proving the value of research discoveries before they are adopted by industry as a whole. Properly designed and managed trials will help industry adopt discoveries quickly and efficiently.

CPRC has begun a consultation process designed to develop recommended guidelines for planning and performing on-farm trials. This effort will involve input from a wide range of stakeholders, including producers, producer organizations, researchers, regulators, statisticians and others. This approach will ensure that potential issues are identified and addressed in the guidelines.

For more details on any CPRC activities, please contact The Canadian Poultry Research Council, 350 Sparks Street, Suite 1007, Ottawa, Ontario K1R 7S8, phone: (613) 566-5916, fax: (613) 241-5999, email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit us at www.cp-rc.ca.


The membership of the CPRC consists of the Chicken Farmers of Canada, Canadian Hatching Egg Producers, Turkey Farmers of Canada, Egg Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors’ Council. CPRC’s mission is to address its members’ needs through dynamic leadership in the creation and implementation of programs for poultry research in Canada, which may also include societal concerns.




Published in Housing

 The difficulty of measuring feeding behaviour in a large group is overcome with the use of electronic feeding stations. 

One of the challenges with poultry research is that the birds may not respond the same in trial conditions as they do in a commercial setting. So how do we find the turkey that is most efficient under group housing conditions?

Owen Willems, a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph, working under the supervision of Dr. Ben Wood and Dr. Andy Robinson in the Centre for Genetic Improvement of Livestock is trying to do just that.

His area of research is focused primarily on the genetics of feed efficiency and feed behaviour in group-housed turkeys, looking at the correlations between feed efficiency and time spent feeding, number of meals, feeding rate, and daily feed intake. As a geneticist, Willems is ultimately in search of the most efficient turkey, housed in the same large group conditions as it will be raised commercially.

Seventy per cent of the total production costs is feed, said Willems, with most primary breeders selecting for feed conversion values. Under conventional feed trial research, data would have to be gathered on individual birds — weigh the bird, weigh the feed in and weigh the feed out — but that data would not always reflect the behavioural aspects involved with group housing in a commercial environment. In a commercial setting the bird would face competition from other birds for feed and water, while in an individual research pen, a meek bird that would do poorly in a group could still be considered as a good performer.

But how do you keep track of feeding behaviour in a large group? As far as Willems was concerned, other livestock industries, beef, swine and dairy, were using auto feed measurement systems, so why not turkeys?

Picture 320 turkeys in one big pen with 32 electronically monitored feed intake stations, ten birds per station. The birds are all “Large White” toms, from 15 to 19 weeks of age. Attached to the wing web of each bird is a generic RFID tag, similar to those used in the dairy industry. The tags weigh 5.6 grams and cost around two dollars each but the information they provide is priceless.

The birds would enter feeders that are mounted on scales, providing data about their feed intake, duration of feeding and the number of times they fed every day. Willems describes the data collected as “vast.” Some birds preferred the central feeders; some preferred the ones on the sides of the pen. “The system records data from each scale every second and the turkeys are active around 14 hours a day,” said Willems, “giving us the capacity to record about 1.6 million data points a day.”

His data is already being used for both research and commercial purposes. In future, it will provide a large dataset for mining and analysis by subsequent graduate students. For example, Willems suggested that someone could now use the data to look at behavioural and animal welfare considerations, while the commercial application is really about improving the breeding candidates that will then become future generations at the commercial level.

The Poultry Industry Council of Ontario, the University of Guelph and industry partner Hybrid Turkeys provided funding for the project.




Published in Nutrition and Feed

Insects as a sustainable human food source have received a good deal of attention and investment over the last several years.   Less visible are efforts here and abroad to use insects as a sustainable animal feed source. One such initiative is taking place in a commercial sized facility in Vancouver.

Vancouver-based Enterra Feed Corporation is not only unique to Canada; it is attempting to resolve two problems with a single solution by using food waste to create feed protein derived from insects.  They describe it as up-cycling.

By using a food source that is naturally eaten by poultry, Enterra is tackling two major, global problems – wasted food and a growing demand for affordable protein sources.

According to recent reports, more than 30 per cent of the world’s food supply never makes it to the consumer and ends up as disposed waste or compost.  In Canada, over 50 per cent of food waste occurs at the consumer level but 29 per cent occurs at the processing and retail levels amounting to about $7.8 billion a year.

The sharp increase in pre-consumer food waste over the last 50 years is due in large part to increasing consumption of perishable fruits and vegetables and stricter food quality requirements. This is happening at the same time as fish stocks and crop lands are shrinking and as demand for soy and other plant proteins is growing, creating volatile feed supplies and prices for poultry farmers.

The farm and food sector is continuously seeking ways to make their practices more environmentally and economically sustainable.  This is where insect-feed fits in.

According to the company website, Enterra’s  patent-pending hatchery process uses a local beneficial insect to recover nutrients from traceable feedstock.  “We operate an organic, zero-waste system to provide a sustainable supply of high quality nutrients for food production at a stable price, and that also reduces food waste disposal costs for businesses and municipalities.”

This is the way it works.

Enterra takes fruit and vegetable waste from grocers and food processors — including Overwaitea Food Group and Sun Processing — combines it with a small amount of fish trim and waste bread and feeds it to the larvae of the black soldier fly. This common and benign fly is used because it is not a vector for disease and because the female flies are prolific- producing up to 900 larvae eggs during their seven day lifespan.

Known for their voracious appetite, the larvae consume each feeding in just a few hours, so the waste food never has time to decompose and breed pathogens.  

The largely automated,  enclosed hatching facility can take in 100 tonnes of pre-consumer food waste per day or 36,500 tonnes per year.

This produces approximately 5,400 tonnes of larvae, 2,700 tonnes of fertilizer and can recover nearly 20,000 tonnes per year of clean water from the fruit and vegetable feedstock.

After two weeks when they are at their prime, the larvae are cleaned, cooked, dried and ground into meal. The meal is about 60 per cent protein, comparable to soy feed, and, according to the company, suitable for both fish or poultry feed. The larvae castings and spent brood flies are being used as fertilizer by local farmers.

The company calls it “Renewable Food for Animals and Plants™”.

Breeding trials conducted by the EU initiative PROteINSECT have found that one hectare of land could produce at least 150 tons of insect protein per year. By comparison, soy planted over the same area yielded just under a ton of protein and is more resource intensive to grow.  And a 2013 report by the   Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN  suggests that feeding trials with fish and poultry showed that the animals fed insect-feed outperformed those raised on traditional diets.

In September, Enterra announced that it had received additional investor funding to help complete its 56,000-square-foot commercial pilot facility in Langley B.C., expand production and begin selling feed on a commercial scale. This makes Enterra the only large scale commercial producer in Canada although there are many in the research, pilot and start-up stages here in Canada and globally.

Company CEO Brad Marchant says “we have been testing our products with poultry for about two years now — both in Canada and the U.S.  The most recent field testing is being conducted at the University of Saskatchewan as well as an organic poultry farm in Oregon, with very encouraging results and positive response from the farm operators.”

As the company prepares to ramp up commercial production, it has filed for Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) approval to sell its feed products in Canada and is awaiting organic certification for its fertilizer product in Canada.  Marchant reports that Enterra has “been working with CFIA for about two and half years now, to register the product as a novel feed ingredient for poultry and aquaculture.” Adding, “We understand that this is a normal timeline for approval of a novel feed ingredient.”

Currently, the products are being sold in Washington, Oregon and Idaho where the firm has received product approvals. The company is awaiting approval in several other U.S. states.  At the same time, Enterra is working on FDA registration so they can sell to all of the U.S. market rather than just certain states.

When it comes to price, Marchant says it is price competitive with common protein sources such as soy and fish meals. “Based on the nutritional content and digestibility we are priced between premium fish meal and poultry meal.  In some cases, where the advantages of local, consistent supply of a natural protein product are desired, there is a premium paid.”

The company is receiving inquiries from poultry producers and Marchant says, “there seems to be pent up demand for the product as insect larvae are a natural feed source for poultry, and our larvae are grown from traceable feedstock sources. It is really more a case of regulations catching up with product demand.”

If all goes according to plan the company may open hatcheries in Toronto, Seattle or San Francisco.  

Although 1/3 of the world’s population eats insects as a regular food source it will be a challenge to get North Americans to adopt an insect diet.   The next best thing is to use those insects to feed animals we will readily eat. And that poultry will too.



Published in Nutrition and Feed


The public wants to know that birds are being well kept and the poultry industry wants the same, but what does the bird want?

That’s what Dr. Alexandra Harlander wants to know. She is leading a series of poultry behavioural studies at the University of Guelph’s Arkell Poultry Research Center where the birds are having their say.

Poultry producers are under public pressure to provide the best possible environment for chickens, and single- or multi-tier aviary systems may provide commercial options. In these systems, birds can walk and flap and fly – performing species-specific behaviour – but they also seem to have increased risk of bone fractures, particularly keel bone fractures, with 80 percent of birds sustaining injuries while navigating the cages.

Until now, there has been no science behind the locomotor skills of the birds on the ground or in the air, nor has there been any study of the laying hens’ preference for flying or walking. Are pullets and hens of different strains better able to adapt to different heights, angles and arrangements of perches and tiers? Are some genetic lines better able to adapt to alternative housing systems?

Harlander and her research students are investigating the set up of aviary systems, including perches, nest boxes, feeders, drinkers and litter, and the behaviour of birds in them with the intention of providing recommendations for these aviary systems in commercial settings.

One of three current projects involves testing the optimum ramp incline that hens can master across ages and strains. A steeper ramp means less room used but are the hens more likely to fly up and risk injury? Chantal LeBlanc, a Master’s student at the University of Guelph, is testing ramp inclines of 20, 50 and 70 degrees leading to two different platform heights similar to those found in commercial aviaries. “Nobody has tested that before,” said LeBlanc. She is also comparing two different surface materials on the ramp – sandpaper versus more commonly used wire mesh.

Starting at just one week old the birds have been tested weekly through 8 weeks of age, bi-weekly from 8 weeks to 20 weeks old, then will be tested further at 25 and 30 weeks of age. LeBlanc places birds from the same home pen — the hen’s friends — in a ‘social attraction’ cage at the top of the ramp, as well as offering food rewards (the birds love raisins) to entice them up the ramp. The hen is first placed on the platform so she sees the reward, then she is released at the bottom of the ramp and allowed to climb. LeBlanc is measuring their behaviour – how do they go up the ramps? Will she fly? Will she walk? At what point do they change from walking up to flying up?

At the bottom of the ramp is a force plate that measures how much they anticipate the climb by the ground-reaction force exerted on the plate – the hypothesis is that the greater the ramp incline, the greater the ground reaction force: it’s more effort.

In another research study, Master’s student Stephanie LeBlanc is looking at how typical production diseases affect the balancing ability of laying hens. Does physical impairment have any impact on the incidence of falls and subsequent keel bone fractures in aviary systems?

LeBlanc tested birds on a motorized moving perch system that sways back and forth. The birds were 69 weeks old and had some typical damage such as footpad dermatitis, poor wing feather coverage or keel bone fractures. This study is looking at how that damage affected their balancing ability on the moving perch. The research is very realistic, using birds that industry actually deals with every day.

The birds were also subjected to different treatments – rubber chickens, for example, were placed on each side of a bird to allow 15 cm of perch: how does this affect her ability to balance? There can be other birds next to a bird on the perch when she’s trying to take off or land – how does this impact the bird’s balance? “She isn’t able to flap,” said LeBlanc, which could increase the probability of injury.  She also put a cotton mask on some birds to mimic low lighting conditions to see how that impacted the birds, adding to much-needed baseline research data for aviary systems.

In another section of the poultry research centre in Arkell, Master’s candidate Madison Kozak is using time loggers to compare the day-to-day behaviour of four different common industry breeds – two Lohman, brown & white, Dekalb white and Hyline white hens in aviaries. “No one has ever made a time budget for a chicken,” said Kozak. How much time do they spend on the ground? How much time do they spend on a platform or perch?

Her research is also going back to the basics to look at the locomotor patterns of the chickens, trying to see how they navigate the aviary systems, trying to distinguish between what we think they want and what they choose. “It’s very basic but necessary,” said Kozak.

Aviaries are becoming increasingly popular, said Kozak, as an option that allows birds to fly, move, run and jump. Aviary systems are supposed to improve hen welfare but a lot of birds are having a hard time navigating them. She has designed an experimental aviary system with a ramp and a ladder, two platforms and a higher perch with two different thicknesses with a spring on it so when they step on it, it’s more like a branch. The wooden features in the pens mimic those made of steel in commercial aviaries. In the industry there will be a higher stocking density.

“We’re getting a time budget,” explained Kozak, who will be measuring the time spent on each behaviour for two hours per day using non-intrusive data loggers attached to the hen’s back. Some birds are fitted with a real data logger; some just have dummy data loggers of the same weight to see if having the apparatus attached to their backs affects their behaviour. The data loggers measure the height of where the bird is in the aviary and an accelerometer is used to measure the speed of the bird and the distance they’ve gone in any direction. Kozak will calibrate this data with videos to evaluate the accuracy of the data logger information for use in further research. “There’s a ton of data that will be easier to analyze with the data logger than with videos,” said Kozak.

How much time to they spend in the ground or in the air? Do they actually use all of the areas of the cage? Maybe they only need one platform? Do they prefer the ramp or the ladder or do they care? Do they prefer to walk or fly, up and down?

She is already seeing that the ladders used by the white birds have a lot of feces on them, which indicates a lot of use compared to the brown birds. Maybe certain breeds are better suited for aviaries?

Kozak also placed brooder boxes in the aviaries for the first eight weeks to simulate the darkness the young birds would experience when hiding in the feathers of a hen. Is it possible these birds will be better adjusted hens later, expressing less feather pecking than those reared without the darkness? Brooder boxes are easy and cheap to construct.

All three studies will combine to help define the right aviary design, one that prevents injuries, and provide suggestions for how birds could be raised for the aviary systems. “We can’t think like a bird,” said Kozak, but we will soon know more about what a bird thinks. Results are expected starting this fall.

Leading this research is Dr. Alexandra Harlander, an assistant professor in Animal Science at the University of Guelph, who has recently been gifted $500,000 by Burnbrae Farms, Canada’s largest egg producer, to establish a professorship in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science. Harlander received her veterinary degree in Vienna, continuing her poultry research at the University of Hohanheim in Germany and the University of Bern in Switzerland before choosing to come to Canada, lured by the positive research atmosphere here. She currently advises five research projects involving the welfare and behaviour of poultry. “I’m very grateful to all my students,” said Harlander. “It’s hard to convince students that chickens are exciting…they are great and they are funny. You can train chickens – they’re very clever. I’d like to raise the excitement level just a bit.”



Published in Housing

November 23, 2014 - A project launched in 2008 to map the entire turkey genome is nearing completion, with more than 95 per cent of the genome sequence now in place.  The results of the current work, which has relied primarily on the use of next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, should prove valuable for studying and subsequently enhancing economically important traits in poultry, according to a recent article in Poultry Science that provides details about the project.

Intense genetic selection for increased growth rate, meat yield, and growth efficiency, has enhanced the turkey industry's ability to roughly double its U.S. annual production of turkeys over the last 30 years to almost 300 million birds, while supplying more value to consumers.  During this same period of time, a number of economically challenging consequences have developed for producers.  These include increased skeletal problems, cardiac morbidity, reduced immune response to some pathogens, and some instances of meat quality issues, among others – all issues that have been, despite years of effort, difficult to address through conventional approaches to breeding.
Finding solutions to these kinds of challenges associated with heavily-muscled birds has been arduous due to scientists’ limited understanding of the complex genetic factors underlying them.  One benefit of the turkey genome project is that thorough knowledge of the genome sequence will provide a refined tool for improved understanding and, eventually, resolution of these issues.
“Providing a complete turkey genome sequence will benefit poultry breeders and producers in terms of finding solutions to disease resistance and numerous other problems.  It should also help improve nutrient utilization and reproductive success,” said Dr. Rami A. Dalloul, lead author of the article and associate professor, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech University.
In addition to benefiting the industry and consumers, the findings of the sequencing project will also help accelerate research in agricultural animal genomics.  The close homology between the chicken and turkey genomes will enable knowledge of the latter to be used as a resource to fill in current gaps in scientists’ knowledge of the chicken genome sequence, noted Dr. Dalloul.
The article, “Applying Next-Generation Sequencing to Solve Poultry Problems: Next-generation sequencing strategies for characterizing the turkey genome,” appeared in a recent issue of Poultry Science, a journal published by the Poultry Science Association (PSA).  PSA has made the full text of the article available for free download at http://ps.oxfordjournals.org/content/93/2/479.full.pdf+html.
Funding for the turkey genome sequencing project was provided primarily by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Animal Genome Program.

Published in Genetics

November 19, 2014 - "Chicken juice" — the liquid produced from defrosting chickens – allows Campylobacter to form protective biofilms and boost its survival in food processing sites, according to a study from the Institute of Food Research. READ MORE

Published in Environment

November 11, 2014 - The University of Saskatchewan and its partners officially opened the Canadian Feed Research Centre (CFRC) in North Battleford October 24, highlighting the many research and training opportunities this unique facility will provide for Canada’s crop and livestock sector.

The $13.9-million feed research centre is a major Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI)-led project and a partnership with the Saskatchewan government, Cargill’s animal nutrition business, and Western Economic Diversification. The centre will research, develop and commercialize new and better high-value animal feeds derived from low-value crops and co-products of bioprocessing and biofuels industries.

Estimates are that increased feed processing from CFRC activities will contribute more than $2M to Canada’s gross domestic product through direct benefits to the crop and livestock industry and indirect benefits through employment.

“Thanks to our partners in government and industry, this national feed research centre is one of the most advanced and diverse in the world—the only one with both pilot-scale and high-volume commercial processing production lines,” said Karen Chad, U of S vice-president research. “This means that promising lab discoveries can move quickly from pilot-plant testing to industrial-scale research—a major advantage in attracting commercialization activities and engaging industry.”

Building upon the university’s signature area of research titled agriculture: food and bio-products for a sustainable future, CFRC researchers will add value to low-quality crops, improve nutrient availability to animals, reduce antibiotic use, and develop enzymes and other bioactives or nutraceuticals to maintain animal health and improve feed efficiency.

Both graduate and undergraduate students will participate in the research, gaining advanced training for careers in the feed and livestock sectors.

The centre is the first of its kind in North America to install new seed-sorting technology that promises to maximize value, quality and safety.

“Feed accounts for 60 to70 per cent of the production costs of animal protein such as meat, milk and eggs,” said Tom Scott, U of S Research Chair in Feed Processing Technology.  “The centre will research the use of processing to improve conversion of low-quality and highly variable ingredients, such as feed grain or co-products of bioprocessing, resulting in safe, high-quality animal feed and providing value to both producers and consumers.”

Funding includes $5 million from the Government of Saskatchewan, $4.88 million from the CFI, $2.46 million from Cargill, $911,544 from Western Economic Diversification (including the seed sorter), and $600,000 from U of S and its suppliers.

More information on the project and Tom Scott can be found here

Published in Nutrition and Feed

November 12, 2014 - A University of Adelaide-led project has developed a new test that can distinguish between birds that have been vaccinated against the H5N1 strain of avian influenza virus or “bird flu” with those that have been naturally infected.

This is a significant step in the fight against this often fatal strain of avian influenza which is widespread in the poultry populations of South East Asia, particularly Indonesia and Vietnam.

It causes global concern because of its possible transmission to humans and the threat of a pandemic if it mutates to a form that can be easily passed from bird to human then human to human. The research has been published in PLOS ONE.

“Avian flu is on the top list of notifiable diseases of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) because of its high economic cost and risk to human health,” says project leader Dr Farhid Hemmatzadeh, Senior Lecturer in Virology in the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at the Roseworthy campus.

“Outbreaks in birds are largely being controlled by vaccination and this is limiting human exposure to this virus.

“But the inability of distinguishing between vaccinated and naturally infected birds has been a major challenge. It has prevented tracking the virus which can still circulate in vaccinated birds and may mutate to new strains under what’s called vaccination pressure.

“These birds that have been vaccinated but still have live naturally infected H5N1 virus in their systems are the main source of emerging strains of the virus - and these new strains may be even more dangerous to birds or humans.

“With this new, more sensitive, test we can identify these vaccinated birds with live virus and prevent the escape of any mutant strains. This is essential if we want to prevent pandemics developing from this virus and eventually eradicate this disease.”

The researchers, including the University of Melbourne, CSIRO and Indonesian organisations, are carrying out large surveillance programs in poultry farms across Indonesia. The research is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

The bird vaccine is made from avian influenza virus which has been killed but still promotes the production of antibodies in the bird protecting it against the live virus. The antibodies prevent the replication of the virus in the bird, but in some cases the virus mutates in a vaccinated bird and can still replicate even with the existing high level of antibodies to the vaccines.

The new DIVA test (differentiation of infected from vaccinated animals) uses a particular viral protein called Matrix protein 2 that reacts differently with blood serum from vaccinated or infected animals. Since the first outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza virus in 2004, the development of a reliable DIVA test has been global priority.


Published in Turkeys


Heritage chickens are important for breeders and industry to protect valuable genes and traits over the long term. Heritage poultry breeds are breeds that existed prior to the 1950s and represent an important bank of genes for traits like disease resistance, unique egg and meat flavour profiles and increased stress tolerance and vigor. However, many heritage breeds are rare and increasingly threatened with extinction.

The University of Alberta’s Poultry Research Centre (PRC) has held heritage chicken strains since 1986. The rare breeds and random bred strains were partly obtained from the Agriculture Canada Research Station in Ontario and partly from Dr. Crawford’s experimental flocks at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Roy Crawford maintained these breeds as an unselected population since 1965, however, when he retired, these breeds found a new home at the PRC in Edmonton.

Like other institutions and organizations, recent budget constraints and physical space have put pressure on the PRC heritage chicken program. “There were more strains earlier on, but some difficult decisions have had to be made along the way due to space and budget concerns,” explains Dr. Valerie Carney, Adjunct Professor, Poultry Research and Extension Specialist, Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development. “Some of the original lines have been transferred to other institutions or eliminated over the past several years. The remaining heritage flocks are valuable and are like an insurance policy for industry,” says Carney. “Our current commercial lines only represent about 50 per cent of the genetic variation, so without these heritage flocks, a lot of variation would be lost. As consumer demands change or new market opportunities open, having access to the range of traits is valuable. One of the most reliable ways of preserving these heritage lines is by keeping live populations. There is research underway with cryopreservation techniques, however the methods are not yet fully reliable and should form only a portion of conservation techniques.”

Because these heritage flocks are costly to maintain and with budget cuts to provincial universities, the PRC flock came under the spotlight. PRC needed to find a creative way to cover the costs of maintaining this flock of 1,500 birds, which were costing about $75,000 per year. PRC received funding from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) to assist with a market research and development project to identify opportunities.

“We worked closely with our commercial industry partners to ensure that any strategies developed were in harmony with the commercial markets,” emphasizes Carney. “The egg industry for example has recognized that consumers would like to have a choice in the type of eggs they want to buy and have developed markets to address that choice. We were looking for creative ways to help fund the cost of keeping the birds at the same time as providing value to supporters. Our innovative “Adopt a Heritage Chicken Program” was created to do that.”

Program a Success
In 2013, the Adopt a Heritage Chicken Program was launched to promote the conservation of unique genetic lines of poultry at the University of Alberta. The program’s goal was to develop a community of supporters for the heritage chickens program. Through the five-month pilot, “Adopt a Hen’” program supporters paid $75 to adopt a hen and received local, free-run, nest-laid eggs every other week from the Plymouth Rock, Light Sussex, New Hampshire, White Leghorn and Brown Leghorn flocks. The pilot project, which started with 200 supporters and another 600 on the waiting list, was very successful and has been expanded in 2014.

“We conducted a survey of our supporters to find out the main reasons they were interested in adopting a hen,” explains Carney. “Over 80 per cent said they wanted to support the heritage stocks. Other top reasons were knowing where their eggs came from and supporting locally grown food sources.” The program has expanded in 2014 to 400 supporters, with another 400 on a waiting list. About 80 per cent of the original 200 supporters returned in 2014. The duration of the program has been extended to 10 months. Supporters pay $150 to adopt a hen and they receive a dozen eggs every other week.

“The biggest win for the program is it has allowed us to engage with an audience that we would never likely be able to connect with otherwise,” says Carney. “We have built a relationship with our supporters and have their trust. It has enabled us to engage them in learning about commercial egg and poultry production and to understand what it means to raise chickens. What started as a money recovery project has really turned into a community outreach program.”

For their 2014 PRC annual meeting, PRC expanded the invitation to include the Heritage Chicken program supporters to participate in “the science behind the henhouse doors” day. Carney notes that supporters come to the university regularly to pick up their eggs. However, because of biosecurity requirements, they are not allowed to come into the unit. This raises a lot of questions, so the day was a way to engage with supporters and help them understand how much science goes into the poultry industry. PRC researchers gave presentations and graduate students presented posters. In 2014, a new component was added where supporters were able to buy chicks hatched from the program. In collaboration with Peavey Mart at three locations near Edmonton, 300 chicks were sold to supporters. “The program was a huge success and we expect to continue,” says Carney. “With the whole movement to urban poultry production, this has given us an opportunity to educate people about backyard poultry biosecurity, practical production care and best practices. The chicks had to be pre-ordered and supporters had to agree to the terms and conditions of the program. When they picked up their chicks at the store, researchers and students were there to provide more information and answer questions.”

The PRC Student Club members have also been very involved in the project and are interested in becoming more engaged with the PRC. “One of the things we are considering is to develop ‘student-led agriculture’ where university students can become more actively engaged in managing these breeding programs,” explains Carney. “This would allow students to gain hands-on training with the birds. We hope to move forward on this concept and are working on some funding strategies.”

At the recent Poultry Science Association Annual Meeting in the U.S., Carney gave a presentation on the Adopt a Heritage Chicken program and received a lot of interest from other Canadian and U.S. universities and institutions. “We are working on funding to develop a package that would assist other institutions start a similar program,” explains Carney. “We have put a lot of effort into developing this program with the blessing of our commercial industry and learned a lot of things along the way that would be valuable to others. We believe it can be a sustainable and collaborative strategy to maintain our heritage flocks at the same time as engaging with community and increasing the understanding of our commercial poultry industry.”


For more information on the program, visit: www.heritagechickens.ca




Published in Broilers

A joint project by Cobb Europe and the Roslin Institute has received a major funding boost from the UK’ s innovation agency, Innovate UK, for genome biobanking to optimize valuable broiler genetic stocks. Photo courtesy USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS).

September 20, 2014 - A joint project by Cobb Europe and the Roslin Institute in Scotland has been awarded a grant of almost £650,000 (US$ 1.07 million) from the UK’ s innovation agency, Innovate UK, for genome biobanking to optimize valuable broiler genetic stocks.

The award, under its Agri-Tech Catalyst programme, will fund cryopreservation and cutting-edge sequencing technologies to address food security and production efficiency. New stem cell preservation technology will be used to enable biobanking of pure lines to ensure these current genetic resources are available in the future. 

The project is projected to cost £815,904 (US$ 1.35 million) of £648,680 is being provided by the Innovate UK grant.  The work will also further mine the genome of Cobb poultry resources to understand the genetic drivers of key economic traits and exploit existing genetic variation to drive significant improvements in commercial performance for emerging markets. 

The award is made in the context of a need to double global poultry production in the next 25 years to meet growing demand for animal protein in the developing world.  Traditional commercial genetic resources will need to have the genetic potential to meet local environmental conditions, which include severe climate and disease challenge pressures. 

“Our investment and collaboration with the Roslin Institute represents a major initiative to address the genetic basis for improved breeder and broiler performance in an era of changing management programmes and an ever growing demand for animal protein,” said Dr Mitch Abrahamsen, Cobb-Vantress vice president of research and development.

“The awarding of funding from the UK government to support our collaboration is a significant recognition of the quality of the researchers involved and validation of our research strategies to assure food security and improving production efficiency.”  

Earlier this year it was announced that Cobb-Vantress is putting more than £600,000 (US$ 1 million) in a three-year joint research programme with the Roslin Institute facilitating collaboration on avian disease resistance, genome analysis and genome preservation. 


Published in Genetics

September 5, 2014, Vancouver - Naturally Splendid Enterprises has announced the results of a recent study conducted at the University of Manitoba that showed an increase of over 637% in the natural omega content of eggs from chickens that consumed the exclusive HempOmegaTM plant based omega product when compared to chickens that consumed a current commercial feed product. Additionally, the study concluded that chickens that consumed HempOmega not only had substantially higher omega content in their eggs but also showed an increase of over 372% in the omega content of the chicken thigh meat itself as well as lower levels of saturated fats.

This study was conducted by Dr. James House at the University of Manitoba on behalf of Boreal Technologies Inc. The purpose of the study was to examine the efficacy of HempOmega when incorporated into poultry feed rations and to identify to what degree HempOmega(TM) could increase the natural omega levels found in eggs laid by chickens that consumed varying levels of the exclusive plant based omega product. Currently, omega-3 enriched egg production makes up approximately 15% of the Canadian shell egg market.

Poultry Study Results Table (8% HEMPomega Vs. Control Feed)

Fatty Acid               Control Feed   8% HEMPomega Feed         % Increase
                       (mg/g of yolk)     (mg/g of yolk)     (mg/g of yolk)
Egg Yolk
Total omega-6                    63.98              73.26             114.50
Total omega-3                     2.17              13.83             637.33

Fatty Acid                Control Feed  8% HEMPomega Feed         % Increase
                     (mg/g of tissue)   (mg/g of tissue)   (mg/g of tissue)
Thigh meat
Total omega-6                     6.16               6.36             103.25
Total omega-3                     0.40               1.49             372.50

"There is a strong existing market for omega enhanced eggs and poultry products," says Naturally Splendid CEO Craig Goodwin. "Independent research and data conclude that the market for omega enriched products continues to grow in both product offerings and annual sales. This poultry study concludes that HempOmega economically increases the omega content of chicken eggs and poultry meat thus opening the opportunity to market HempOmega to poultry feed manufacturing companies." 

Published in Layers


Each year, thousands of babies are born in the U.S. with craniofacial defects, from cleft lips and palates to more severe abnormalities of the face or head. Now new discoveries in chicken genetics and biology are shedding light on the basis of these abnormalities in both birds and humans.

The work, by a team including University of California, Davis, animal science professor Mary Delany, was made possible by information from the chicken genome sequence and a stock of rare chicken lines kept at UC Davis. The findings appear in the August issue of the journal Development.

The researchers focused on a mutation of the gene named talpid2, known to be associated with a number of congenital abnormalities, including limb malformations and cleft lip or palate.

They found that talpid2 -- like other limb and craniofacial mutations found in both humans and chickens -- is related to the malfunction of "cilia," tiny, hairlike structures on the surface of cells of the body.

Cilia play a vital role in passing along signals during development. When a gene mutation interferes with the normal structure and function of the cilia, it sets off a chain reaction of molecular miscues that result in physical abnormalities, in chickens or in people.

"Now that this new information is available, the talpid2 mutation can be expanded as a model for studying similar congenital abnormalities in humans including oral-facial defects, which affect many people around the world," said Delany, who also serves as executive associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Delany said that the findings also are significant for production of poultry and livestock, which are likewise vulnerable to genetic mutations that cause similar physical abnormalities.

The specialized genetic line of chickens used for this study is a member of a group of unique avian genetic resources maintained for decades by UC Davis.

"These lines are maintained for their value in carrying out studies by UC Davis researchers and the community of researchers in the U.S. and internationally who study developmental biology in higher organisms," Delany said. "The chicken offers researchers unique advantages because the embryo develops in the egg, and all stages of development are available for analysis."

She noted that, for the research team, the findings are particularly meaningful as they are being published during the 10th anniversary of the initial sequencing of the chicken genome.

"The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture embarked on a partnership to fund sequencing of the chicken genome precisely because of the value of the chicken as a model organism for studying human health and its significance around the world as a source of food protein in the form of eggs and meat," Delany said.

"This is a terrific example of the aspirational intention of the USDA and NIH sequencing partnership," she said.

Leading the study was Samantha A. Brugmann of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, with Elizabeth A. O'Hare, previously at UC Davis and now at the University of Maryland, Baltimore; Ching-Fang Chang and Elizabeth N. Schock, both of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center; Jerry Dodgson of Michigan State University; Hans H. Chang of the USDA-ARS in Michigan; William M. Muir of Purdue University; and Richard E. Edelmann at Miami University, Ohio.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health, the Cincinnati Children's Research Foundation, the John and Joan Fiddyment Endowment, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the National Animal Genome Research Support Program.


Published in Genetics

August 20, 2014 - Burnbrae Farms has gifted $500,000 to the University of Guelph to establish the Burnbrae Farms Professorship in Poultry Welfare, a tenure track position in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science.  Dr. Alexandra Harlander will assume this position and will serve the poultry industry with her insights on animal welfare and behavior in all poultry species. 

The professorship will support egg farmers and increase the capacity for the ongoing research of laying hen behaviour and housing. The main objective of the research is to solve problems associated with alternative non-cage systems and to better understand the behaviour and biology of the laying hen. This research will support the adoption of new practices, the design of systems that are best suited for the hens’ welfare and the implementation of new technology to improve the quality of life of laying hens on the farm.  

Margaret Hudson, President of Burnbrae Farms, said in a release "the University of Guelph has played a significant role in the support of animal welfare and behavior, and the research they conduct is unmatched. This professorship will help increase its capacity and will be unique in its outreach efforts to farmers, the general public and retailers.”

The professorship, also partially funded by the Poultry Industry Council and the Canadian Poultry Research Council, will focus on research, teaching, industry service and educating farmers, retailers and consumers. Consumers’ preferences continue to drive the demands of retailers and the specialty egg market in Canada.  Professor Harlander is an associated faculty member of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare, an internationally recognized centre of excellence, and will work to balance on-farm productivity and poultry welfare, with the needs of the general public.

“Burnbrae Farms’ commitment to the industry, animal welfare and consumers is evident in its support of this innovative position,” said Rob Gordon, Dean of the Ontario Agricultural College of the University of Guelph in a news release. “We need champions to communicate with farmers, retailers and consumers. This position will focus on working with the entire value chain to enhance production systems and approaches, and educate on the issue of poultry welfare and behaviour.”

“This professorship is exceptionally timely. With pressing demands from the public and food industry professionals, Canada, like many countries, needs research to help establish new, high-care standards based on sound data”, said Alexandra Harlander, Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science, who is accepting the professorship. “Canadians consume about 204 eggs per person, annually and vast quantities are produced in modern production systems. For the improvement of poultry welfare it is important that we continue to explore the core aspects of their health and strive to determine what they want from their environments.” 

Burnbrae Farms said the release that researching and developing systems that focus on the overall welfare of the hens is part of the company’s mandate. The company has worked closely with researchers at the Poultry Welfare Research Centre at the University of Guelph to examine poultry housing systems and related hen behaviours for many years.  Burnbrae Farms said its goal is to implement the best possible technologies for good poultry care, and that it continues to evolve and change its housing systems based on new research findings. The company’s support of the professorship only further solidifies its ongoing commitment to poultry welfare in Canada. 

“Burnbrae Farms is dedicated to animal welfare and the promotion of sustainable agriculture systems that provide consumers with safe, affordable food and a good quality of life for the laying hens,” said Hudson. “We’re committed to putting in place systems that have been proven through research to provide the best welfare for our birds.”



Published in Welfare

June 9, 2014 - Responding to growing demands from consumers to know where their food comes from, Chicken Farmers of Canada has introduced its "Raised by a Canadian Farmer", a branding program showcasing the commitment of farmers to provide families with nutritious chicken raised to the highest standards of care, quality and freshness.

The Raised by a Canadian Farmer brand will tell Canadian consumers, right on the packages of chicken they buy, that their chicken is raised in Canada by farmers dedicated to producing unmatched quality chicken that meets the highest nutrient, food safety and animal care standards.

Recent Leger Marketing studies reveal that Canadian primary shoppers believe it is important that chicken be labelled with its country of origin. More importantly, more than 85 per cent feel it is important that the chicken they buy is Canadian, not imported.

"Consumers increasingly want to know the story behind their food. Our research tells us that we can best tell that story through a distinct brand," emphasizes David Janzen, Chair of Chicken Farmers of Canada. "Moreover, our research shows that the majority of Canadians would trust a national brand if it came from a farmers' group, rather than from a retailer or processor."

Branding chicken raised in Canada affirms consumer preferences for local food and showcases Canadian farming practices, which ensure that chicken Raised by a Canadian Farmer is fresh, safe and of the highest quality. Ninety-eight per cent of Canadian chicken farmers are certified on Chicken Farmers of Canada's mandatory national on-farm food safety program. Each farmer is audited annually to ensure compliance.

"Thanks to the system of supply management, most chicken in grocery stores is already produced by Canadian farmers," continues Janzen. "But with ever-growing calls to know where and how food is produced, we need to let shoppers know just how proud our farmers are in helping to feed families in every corner of the country."

In addition, Chicken Farmers of Canada's Animal Care Program ensures that farmers are aligned with humane treatment standards. The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association support the implementation of the Animal Care program. Just like the food safety program, farmers are also audited under this program to ensure that animal care standards and practices are strictly followed.


Published in Consumer

May 28, 2014 - Canada's first graduate program in meat science will be housed out of the University of Alberta. 

A $1.6 million grant will be used to fund the Canadian Meat Education and Training Network (MEaTnet), a virtual organization made up of the U of A, Université Laval, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Guelph. The organization will be based at the U of A but will develop a shared graduate studies curriculum between all four universities. The network estimates it will produce 50 grads over the next six years and aims to have formal meat science graduate programs at all four partner universities by 2020.

Read more about the new program here.  



Published in Consumer

Broiler birds are known for their fast growth rates and voracious appetites but that growth potential creates an issue for breeding hens. How do we feed these birds without creating health problems with fat hens?

Masters candidate Krysta Morrissey of the Department of Animal Science, University of Guelph, described in her recently published paper how the selection for fast growth is correlated with obesity-related health problems, including increased susceptibility to lameness, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.

In North America, the practice of skip-a-day feeding is commonly used to avoid these health problems in parent stock. Broiler breeding hen rations are restricted by up to 75 per cent of the ad lib intake ingested by their broiler counterparts. Two times the daily ration allocation is typically fed every other day, and the feed allocations are often entirely consumed in less than ten minutes.

But this practice has raised welfare concerns, particularly in the United Kingdom (UK) where skip-a-day feeding is negatively perceived. Does skip-a-day feeding cause an increase in behavioural symptoms indicative of hunger?

As Morrissey describes in her paper, “Because broiler breeders have such large appetites, these severe dietary restrictions result in symptoms of chronic hunger. In behaviour thought to be indicative of frustration (such as pecking at nonfood objects), increased general activity and aggression, excessive drinking, and increased feather pecking.”

Morrissey’s research compared feeding regimes, skip-a-day versus daily feeding, and investigated “alternative” diets. Fibre and appetite suppressants were added to broiler breeder rations to possibly reduce stereotypic behaviour associated with hunger.

In her study, six groups of hens were observed by video monitoring from 11 to 28 weeks of age. Two control groups compared a typical ration (C) fed every day and on skip-a-day (SAD) frequency, while the remaining four groups were fed “alternative” diets with added fibre, (40 per cent soybean hulls), and either feed grade (F) or purified (P) Calcium propionate, on daily and skip-a-day routines.

Morrissey hypothesized that the alternative diets, F and P, would result in reduced hunger symptoms, expressed by reduced aggressive behaviours, such as excessive drinking, object pecking and feather pecking. She also hypothesized that SAD feeding frequency would increase behavioural indices of hunger and result in worse feather condition.

The birds were observed during and immediately following feeding, assuming that aggressive behaviour would increase at feeding time and would reveal more significant differences.

She found that both diet and frequency of feeding affected behaviour. The control birds on both daily and skip-a-day feeding routines were more active, displayed more feather pecking and object pecking. This increase in aggressive behaviours following feeding was less obvious with the SAD feeding frequency, presumably due to an increased satiety over the daily-fed birds in the control group.

The fibre and appetite suppressant diets, regardless of feeding frequency, resulted in fewer symptoms of hunger, presumably due to the larger volume of feed being ingested and the resulting increase in satiety.

“As hypothesized, we found that high-fiber diets including an appetite suppressant reduced behavioral indices of hunger, as indicated by the increased time spent resting, and decreased time spent feather pecking and object pecking and aggression. However, even with the alternative diets, some level of hunger was still present, as not all oral stereotypic behavior was completely abolished during rearing.”

She also suggested that, “Chronic hunger may be unavoidable as Hocking [1993] found that ad lib fed broiler breeders still spent a significant amount of time feeding throughout the night, suggesting a level of hunger sufficient to cause feeding behavior during the dark period when there normally would not be.”

Morrissey later investigated the birds’ preference for the diets, finding no dietary preference between the control ration (C) and the bulkier fibre and appetite suppressant ration (F). It is possible that the differences between the two diets were too subtle for the birds to detect. While the results did not support her hypothesis that the birds would prefer the bulkier ration, they did at least show that the alternative feed wasn’t aversive to the birds.

Her research provided no strong evidence to support the hypothesis that daily feeding would suppress hunger more effectively than SAD or vice versa. While Morrissey’s research did not generate behavioural data that would allow recommendations regarding skip-a-day feeding, she does suggest that producers adapt a dietary feeding regime that includes a fibre source and possibly an appetite suppressant that may improve broiler breeder welfare.

Morrissey’s work appears in Poultry Science 93:285-295. The Growing Forward I Poultry Cluster, Canadian Poultry Research Council and the Poultry Industry Council provided funding with special thanks to Margaret Quinton (University of Guelph) and Hank Classen (University of Saskatchewan) as well as the assistance of the Behaviour Laboratory at the University of Guelph. The birds were donated by Aviagen, via Horizon Poultry.


Published in New Technology
Page 10 of 22

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