February 26, 2014 - A three-year research agreement between Cobb-Vantress, Inc. and The Roslin Institute, at the University of Edinburgh, will facilitate collaboration on avian disease resistance, genome analysis and genome preservation. 

Cobb, a global leader in poultry genetics, is putting almost $1 million into avian research programs at The Roslin Institute to identify innovative ways to improve avian health as well as developing unique technologies to understand and preserve the current and heritage poultry genomes.

The investment creates a strategic partnership between Cobb and The Roslin Institute that leverages each world class entity’s strengths. Mitch Abrahamsen, Cobb vice president of research and development, stated: “This research partnership provides a wonderful opportunity for Cobb to continue a close collaborative relationship with The Roslin Institute and their new National Avian Research Facility (NARF)

“The continued financial investments by The Roslin Institute in people and infrastructure demonstrate their commitment to making significant contributions toward improving poultry health and capitalizing on the opportunities afforded by the ever expanding understanding of the chicken genome.”

The National Avian Research Facility recently opened a state-of-the-art facility with its focus in poultry research. Professor David Hume, director of The Roslin Institute, said of the new agreement: “The joint partnership with Cobb is an excellent example of the kind of industrial interactions that allow The Roslin Institute’s research to drive sustainable improvements in animal health and livestock productivity."

One of the applications of this joint partnership is an effort to develop new technology enabling pedigree or heritage lines to be maintained without the need to physically maintain the bird stock. In addition, several projects will investigate DNA markers in the genome, targeting some of the more difficult to select for traits such as avian immunity, disease tolerance and disease resistance. 

“These are exciting new areas which we hope will lead to major breakthroughs in avian health and preservation.” said Dr Christine Daugherty, chief technology officer of Cobb.

“Cobb has an extensive gene pool and to be able to better understand the poultry genome will be critical to meeting future demands for poultry products. We’re always striving to breed more robust chickens that will withstand disease and environmental challenges.   We’re looking for birds with greater immunity to diseases or with the ability to tolerate disease without affecting their performance.”

The collaboration will support research by graduate students and is for an initial three years, with potential for renewal.   The agreement with The Roslin Institute, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is one of more than                    30 research projects that Cobb has been supporting in 18 different universities across the globe over the past five years. 

Published in Genetics

February 18, 2014, Guelph, Ont. — Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz today announced an investment of $4 million to the Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC).

The research will focus on helping the poultry processing industry remain competitive, while addressing consumer concerns about poultry welfare and environmental preservation. This will include developing new vaccines, finding viable alternatives to the use of dietary antibiotics in chicken production, reducing the environmental footprint of poultry farms and providing poultry farmers access to high-calibre training opportunities.

This investment builds on research funding previously received through AAFC’s Canadian Agri-Science Clusters Initiative as part of Growing Forward.This investment is made through the Industry-led Research and Development stream of AAFC’s AgriInnovation Program, a five-year, up to $698-million initiative under Growing Forward 2.

Roelef Meijer, chair of the Canadian Poultry Research Council says that Canada's poultry industry has made embracing innovation part of the industry's vision in recognition of the need to be dynamic and to foster efficiency for farmers and its industry partners.

"This announcement of funding for a second Poultry Science Cluster is a substantial contribution to the sector's future," he says.  "It will enable researchers to find more immediate answers to industry issues and to provide important information to farmers, stakeholders and consumers."








Published in Welfare

January 24, 2014 — The Canadian Broiler Hatching Egg Producer's Association (CBHEPA) is offering a broiler breeder research grant to one or two university students to study and perform a short-term broiler breeder research project. 

The research grant(s) will give third-year or graduate students the opportunity to perform broiler breeder research at a Canadian university or research facility on the following topics: 

1. Production-based research

2. Food Safety

3. Control of Salmonella

4. Breeder welfare

5. Environmental Research

6. Poultry health and disease

7. Dark-meat utilization


Interested students must provide CBHEPA with a detailed description of the project, it's duration and location, potential benefits to the broiler hatching egg industry, reason support is needed and the budget of the project (including CBHEPA's contributions).  

Application deadline is February 7, 2014.  

For more information and to receive an application form email  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   

Published in Nutrition and Feed

Jan. 15, 2014 - Innovators in the province's agriculture and food industry are being encouraged to apply for awards under the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence program, now accepting applications until February 28, 2014.

Farmers, primary producers, processors and agri-food related organizations are all eligible for recognition under this initiative.

The Premier's Award for Agri-food Innovation Excellence program encourages the development of our rural communities, farms and agri-food processing businesses and agri-food organizations by adding value to existing products, creating jobs and driving economic growth.

"Ontario's agri-food industry is leading the way with innovative products and ideas that are creating jobs and bringing more locally grown food to the table. I encourage farmers, processors and agri-food organizations to apply and help us tell their innovation success stories," said Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Agriculture and Food.

Since 2007, 375 producers, processors and agri-food organizations have received a Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, with up to 50 awarded annually under the program.

Supporting a strong and innovative agri-food industry is part of the government's three-part economic plan to invest in people, invest in infrastructure and help businesses grow and create jobs.

For more information on previous winners, click here, and to download your guidebook and application for the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation, visit



Learn More

Published in Farm Business
En novembre dernier, le professeur du département de science animale et avicole, Dr Henry L. Classen, a présenté les conclusions de son équipe lors du Rendez-vous avicole de l’AQINAC, à Drummondville. Assisté par l’étudiante à la maîtrise Jocelyn Fournier, il a enquêté sur le comportement et le rendement de volatiles ayant subi ou pas le traitement de dégriffage.

En raison de l’évolution dans la production de dindon, plusieurs questions importantes demeuraient sans réponses. Les doigts étant essentiels à l’équilibre et la mobilité, comment les doigts raccourcis affectent-ils les dindons avec des poitrines considérablement plus volumineuses qu’il y a 30 ans? Maintenant que les ciseaux chirurgicaux et la cautérisation avec lame chaude ont été remplacés par le traitement des griffes par microondes de Nova-Tech Engineering, les dindons souffrent-ils moins du dégriffage?

La recherche s’est basée sur l’hypothèse que le dégriffage diminue les égratignures sur les carcasses, sans provoquer d’effets négatifs sur le bien-être des oiseaux ou leur productivité. L’impact du dégriffage a été mesuré sur la production (croissance, efficacité alimentaire et dommage à la carcasse) et le bien-être des oiseaux (longueur et variabilité des doigts, guérison des doigts, cote de démarche/posture et comportement). Hank Classen croit qu’il était nécessaire d’évaluer le bien-être animal autrement qu’en mesurant les dommages à la carcasse ou les taux de condamnation. Le dégriffage par microondes réduirait les infections bactériennes, mais la coupe pourrait-elle être trop grande?

Les expériences ont été menées sur des groupes de 32 dindes Hybrid Converter par parquet, de zéro à 15 semaines, et des groupes de 17 dindons Hybrid Converter par parquet, âgés de zéro à 20 semaines.

Deux traitements ont été comparés : aucun dégriffage et le dégriffage par microondes. Les oiseaux ont été élevés jusqu’à des âges plus avancés qu’habituellement au Canada, mais comparables aux pratiques ailleurs dans le monde.

Chez les dindes, après 15 semaines, il n’y avait aucune différence significative de poids entre celles traitées et non traitées. Par contre, après 20 semaines, les dindons qui n’avaient pas été dégriffés pesaient environ un demi-kilo de plus que ceux qui avaient été dégriffés.  

En examinant le gain de poids tout au long de la croissance, on constate que les dindons traités et non traités suivent la même courbe pour les premiers 70 jours. Plus ils deviennent gros cependant, plus la différence s’accentue. « Ceci nous porte à croire que les dindons traités étaient en quelque sorte réticents à se rendre à la mangeoire », a indiqué Hank Classen.

Chez les dindes et les dindons, les oiseaux dégriffés ont consommé moins d’aliments de zéro à sept jours. D’après le Dr Classen, on peut en déduire qu’ils ont été affectés par le dégriffage.

Les dindons dégriffés se sont aussi moins nourris dans la période de 126 à 140 jours, confirmant l’hypothèse d’une réticence à s’alimenter qui freine l’atteinte du potentiel génétique.

Toutefois, comme la recherche antérieure l’a aussi démontré, le taux de conversion alimentaire n’a pas été affecté par le dégriffage. La mortalité a été plus élevée chez les oiseaux dégriffés, mais dans le cadre des expériences, la différence n’était pas significative statistiquement.

Il y a plutôt lieu de s’inquiéter d’une autre observation : le grand nombre de dindons dégriffés souffrant de rotation tibiale, une condition qu’on retrouve habituellement chez des oiseaux qui ont subi des dommages physiques à leurs jambes en raison d’une exposition à une surface glissante. Les chercheurs croient que l’absence de griffes sur une litière de paille pourrait être en cause.

La trouvaille la plus importante est liée aux égratignures. Chez les dindes, celles dégriffées affichaient une importante réduction d’égratignure des carcasses. Parmi les dindons, les groupes dégriffés et non dégriffés affichaient peu d’égratignures de carcasse. « à 20 semaines, ces dindons pèsent plus de 20 kilogrammes. Ce sont de gros oiseaux. Il est possible que ce soit leur grande taille qui réduise le potentiel d’égratignures », a suggéré Hank Classen.

Il s’avère que les oiseaux dégriffés avaient des doigts en moyenne 8 per cent plus courts. La repousse des doigts était très variable. Un examen de plus près a démontré qu’à 14 jours, la guérison était terminée. Dans trois échantillons sur quatre, des colonies de bactéries ont été trouvées, ce qui révèle que le traitement par microondes n’offre pas une barrière complète à l’entrée des bactéries. Dans l’ensemble, le traitement s’est avéré constant et efficace.

Les chercheurs ont été surpris de constater que lorsqu’encouragés à marcher, les dindes et les dindons ont démontré une bonne mobilité, en dépit de leur forte taille vers la fin du cycle. Cependant, pendant leur première semaine de vie, le niveau d’activité des oiseaux dégriffés était réduit. « Les effets du dégriffage étaient pratiquement partis rendu à la fin de la première semaine, rapporte Hank Classen. Ces effets étaient sensiblement moindres chez les dindes que chez les dindons, mais on en déduit qu’il y a probablement une sensation d’inconfort ou de douleur (chez les deux sexes). »

Puisque les doigts contiennent des nerfs capables d’émettre des signaux de douleur, la coupe des griffes par microondes provoque certainement de la douleur, explique Hank Classen. « Il n’y a aucun doute à l’effet que ces oiseaux ont besoin d’un peu plus d’attention après le traitement. »

Même si la recherche a été menée sur de petits lots dans des installations expérimentales, les conclusions sont pertinentes pour les éleveurs commerciaux.      

Sur la base de leurs expériences, les chercheurs ne recommandent pas de dégriffer les dindons, surtout ceux qui sont élevés pour les plus gros calibres. Ils ont constaté de la douleur après le dégriffage, des gains de poids inférieurs en âge avancé et un plus grand nombre de rotations tibiales. Et surtout, les dindons qui n’avaient pas été dégriffés ne présentaient pas d’égratignures sur leurs carcasses. « Nous devons nous préoccuper des questions de bien-être, affirme Hank Classen. Pour les dindons suivis dans ces expériences, le dégriffage a plusieurs aspects négatifs et aucun aspect positif. » 

Cette recherche a été commanditée par le Conseil de recherches avicoles du Canada, Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada et Lilydale.
Published in Turkeys
Toe trimming in turkey production is a well-established practice, but is it really necessary? Last November, professor Henry L. (Hank) Classen presented his research team’s findings at the AQINAC poultry conference in Drummondville, Que. Assisted by graduate student Jocelyn Fournier; Classen investigates behaviour and performance of treated and non-treated turkeys.

Classen pointed out that existing research on toe trimming was rather outdated. “The genetics of these birds has dramatically changed since the 1970s and 1980s. The technology used to trim toes has also changed.”

Because of this significant evolution in turkey production, several important questions remained unanswered. With toes being important for balance and mobility, how do shorter toes affect birds with considerably more breast muscle than 30 years ago? Now that Nova-Tech Engineering’s Microwave Claw Processor has replaced surgical scissors or cauterizing hot blades, do birds suffer less from the toe trimming procedure?

Classen’s research was based on the hypothesis that toe trimming can decrease carcass scratching without negative effects on bird welfare. The effect of toe trimming was measured on production criteria (growth, feed efficiency and carcass damage) and bird welfare criteria (toe length and variability, toe healing, gait score/stance and behaviour).

Classen said there was a need to assess animal welfare other than by measuring carcass damage from scratching and condemnation. Treating toes using microwaves may reduce bacterial infection, but could the trimming be too severe?

The experiment was conducted on groups of 32 Hybrid Converter hens per pen, from zero to 15 weeks of age, and groups of 17 Hybrid Converter toms per pen, from zero to 20 weeks of age. Two treatments were compared – no toe trimming and toe trimming – using the Microwave Claw Processor. The birds were grown to ages older than what is common practice in Canada but comparable to world standards.

 Carcass Scratch
Chart courtesy of University of Saskatchewan


There was no significant difference in body weight between treated and non-treated hens after 15 weeks. However, at 20 weeks, untreated toms did weigh around half a kilogram more than treated ones.

A closer look at body weight gain over time revealed that both treated and untreated toms had comparable body weight gain for the first 70 days, but things changed as the birds got bigger. “This lends itself to the idea that the treated birds were somewhat reluctant to go to the feeder,” Classen said.

For both hens and toms, treated birds had a reduced feed intake from zero to seven days. According to Classen, this suggests that birds are affected by the treatment.

Treated toms also had a reduced feed intake at 126 to 140 days, confirming the hypothesis that there is a reluctance to feed and grow to genetic potential.

However, in agreement with previous experiments, the overall feed to gain ratio seemed not to be affected by toe trimming. Mortality was higher with treated birds, but in the context of the experiments, the difference was not statistically significant.

Of much greater concern was the number of treated toms that by the age of three weeks had a rotated tibia, a condition that can be found in birds that suffer physical damage to their legs because they are exposed to slippery surfaces. In this case, researchers suspect the cause may be the absence of claws on straw bedding.  

The experiment’s most interesting finding relates to scratching. With hens, a very significant reduction in carcass scratching was observed among treated birds. Among the toms, there was very little carcass scratching in both treated and non-treated groups. “At 20 weeks of age, those toms weigh more than 20 kilograms. They are big birds. It’s possibly their size alone that reduces the potential for scratching,” Classen said.

As for toe length, it turns out treated birds have toes that are about eight per cent shorter. Toe regrowth is very variable. A close look at toes shows that by 14 days, most of the healing is done. In three out of four samples, bacterial colonies were found in treated toes, suggesting the microwave treatment is probably not a complete barrier to bacteria entry. But overall, the treatment was found to be consistent and effective.

Researchers were surprised to find that when encouraged to walk, both hens and toms showed good mobility despite their large size. However, during the first week, treated birds did have a reduced activity level. “These effects were basically gone by the end of a week,” Classen said. “The effect was slightly less in hens than in toms, but the bottom line is that these birds probably experience some type of discomfort or pain.”

Because the toe is innervated (it has nerves that can send pain signals), there is undoubtedly pain caused when severing it with microwaves, Classen explained. “There is no question that these birds probably need a little additional care after the treatment.”


Although the research was conducted on a small flock in experimental infrastructures, conclusions may be relevant to commercial turkey breeders.

In the case of hens, toe trimming is recommended despite welfare issues early in life. Classen says that this is counterbalanced by reduced scratching.

Researchers recommend against toe trimming toms, especially those grown to heavier sizes. There was indication of pain after treatment, reduced growth at later ages and an increase in rotated tibia. Most importantly, untreated toms did not suffer more carcass scratches. “For toms observed in this experiment, we have negative things that add up, and nothing positive to counterbalance.”

This research was sponsored by the Canadian Poultry Research Council, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Lilydale.
Published in Turkeys
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have recently completed a series of experiments investigating feeding pea to poultry.

Pea production is increasing in Western Canada and while the pea (Pisum sativum L.) is mainly produced as human food, there is the potential for surplus and feed grade pea to be used in poultry feed based on availability and price.

But how does pea perform for poultry?

 “The nutrient profile of pea is suitable for most poultry production, but it is not used to its potential because of incomplete and variable poultry nutrient data,” states PhD candidate Salaheddin Ebsim in his doctoral thesis.

In his study, entitled Establishing the Nutritional Value of Pea as Affected by Feed Processing and Pea Cultivar for Poultry, Ebsim and his supervisor, Dr. Hank Classen, were curious to clarify the nutritional value of pea in poultry diets to maximize its utilization and possibly reduce the cost of poultry production.  

“The nutritional evaluation of pea for poultry has been mostly investigated elsewhere, but under local conditions these data are not sufficient for accurate feed formulation,” writes Ebsim, noting that different pea cultivars and growing conditions may also affect the nutrient composition and availability of pea for poultry.

Starch is the main source of energy in poultry feed, and while pea seed has high starch content, the starch is different from that found in cereal grain. Pea starch is less accessible to digestive enzymes in the small intestine, making it digest slowly. In humans, this has been shown to be a good thing, but research on chickens is rare.

As Ebsim explains in his thesis, “The slowly digestible nature of pea starch has been suggested to have a unique nutritional value for poultry with evidence that the presence of slow degraded starch reduces the amino acid requirements of broilers and that a mixture of rapidly and slowly degraded starch improves broiler productivity in contrast to diets containing only rapidly digested starch.”

The three overall objectives of the research included studying the effect of various feed processing on nutrient digestibility of pea; the effect of the interaction between locally grown pea cultivar and feed processing on pea nutrient digestibility; and the impact of feeding pea to laying hens, broiler breeder hens and broilers.

Ebsim found that fine grinding and pelleting improved both pea energy and protein utilization and that this effect was much more pronounced than for classical feeds like barley, corn, and wheat cereal grains. Of note, all cultivars reacted to processing in the same way.

Using laboratory and animal testing, Ebsim further demonstrated that pea cultivar had an important impact on both the rate and extent of starch digestion and that these improvements resulted in differences in broiler performance. This suggests that cultivar selection has the potential to improve the nutritional value of pea for poultry and possibly other animals as well.  

The third objective of the thesis involved feeding pea to various classes of poultry at relatively high levels. In both broiler and laying hen trials, Ebsim found little evidence that the effect of amino acid intake on bird performance depended on the level of slow digested starch from pea. However, in all chicken classes, the production response of birds fed pea was higher than expected based on their digestible nutrient content. The reason for this response still requires clarification.

Some of Ebsim’s most interesting research came from feeding pea to broiler breeders during the brooding and rearing period. In feed restricted broiler breeders, feeding pea reduced the postprandial blood glucose level and altered bird metabolism in a way that may reduce bird hunger. Broiler breeders are most often fed every other day during the brooding and rearing period and feed nutrients are stored for a short period of time after feeding (approximately 24 hours) as fat in the liver, and then utilized until the hens are fed again. In some cases, the liver nearly doubles in weight and then returns to its initial weight during this period. When birds were fed pea, liver weight increases were less than for birds fed a more conventional diet. This research suggests that feeding pea to broiler breeders may have beneficial metabolic effects, but research is required to confirm this.

Ebsim sees increased potential to include feeds such as peas to meet future production requirements. “The use of new grain or pulse cultivars with higher nutritional value will also see increased interest, particularly those that grow well in a wide range of environments,” he states. “Pea is a good candidate for further development in this regard as it can be grown in most of places in the world.”

The research received scholarship support from the University of Tripoli, Libya, as well as support from the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers and the staff and students at the Poultry Centre, University of Saskatchewan.

This new regular series of articles is part of the communications plan of the Poultry Welfare Centre. For more information, visit the Canadian Virtual Centre for Poultry Welfare at
Published in Nutrition and Feed
Dec. 9, 2013 - Three companies, Aviagen, CEVA, and DSM, joined to create an information-packed two-days worth of seminars – October 22nd in Ontario and October 24th in Quebec – with their mutual customers in those cities. The spokespeople from these three sponsor companies shared their insights with more than 30 attendees at each venue on how genetics, health, and nutrition are key components in reaching production potential in poultry flocks.

The seminar was dubbed, The Triangle of Influence for Maximizing Profits. Genetics – Health- Nutrition, and featured presentations that examined the practical impact of genetic selection, diet, and preventive care has to the overall production potential in flocks.

"The strategic alliance between Aviagen, CEVA, and DSM in continuing customer education was exemplified in these two full days of collaboration featuring knowledgeable speakers and enthusiastic and engaged participants," said Canadian Regional Business Consultant for Aviagen Scott Gillingham.

The triangle of interaction between veterinarians, nutritionists, and production managers extends the reach of the innovative research and development programs of the primary breeder through ideas, knowledge, and communication in the field to maximize poultry health, welfare, and financial return.

The program featured in-depth and relevant presentations including:
  • Breeding objectives and Selection Strategies for Broiler Production by Dr. Derek Emmerson , Aviagen, highlighted that annual improvements will continue with a diversity of breeds to meet market needs.
  • Optimum Vitamin Nutrition for Poultry, Dr. Marc deBeer, DSM Nutritional Products, emphasized the need to revisit vitamin and mineral levels. Vitamin levels have a dramatic effect on FCR and yield gains.
  • The Future in Vectored Vaccines, Dr. Christophe Cazaban, CEVA, discussed how vector vaccines optimize vaccine take and improve safety.
  • Coccidiosis: The Never Ending Story, Kobus VanHeerden, CEVA, discussed the improvements and importance of good coccidiosis control.
  • Poultry Feed Enzymes: Where are we?, Doug Teitge, DSM Nutritional Products, covered how enhancements in enzyme products promotes improvement of feed availability to the bird to meet the nutritional demands for growth and efficiency in poultry production.
"Together we share a common commitment of support and education that is focused on breeding success for poultry producers throughout Canada, and we look forward to participating in future educational events with CEVA and DSM," added Gillingham.
Published in Genetics
The good farmland of Aylsham, Sask., is where Henry Classen was born and raised. As the youngest of four boys in a Mennonite family, young Hank knew that his chance of getting any of the family farmland wasn’t good, but what he didn’t know was that his choice of pursuing an academic career in agriculture would lead him down a logical path to success.

Dr. Classen was named Distinguished Professor at the University of Saskatchewan in the spring of 2013 and within a month was also awarded the position of Industrial Research Chair in Poultry Nutrition, leading a five-year, $3.6-million National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) research project.

Such an honour hadn’t even dawned on the early teenager when he was tending the chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese for a neighbour, Mrs. Ryba, a quarter mile down the road from his family’s grain and pig farm. It was a key time of influence on the young boy: he discovered poultry.

Classen did his early schooling in Aylsham and Nipawin, Sask., and then finished his last year of high school at Rosthern Junior College, a private Mennonite school. His family core values of hard work are typical of that era and that work ethic has had a strong impact on his life and what he thinks is important.

His father hoped that his youngest boy would pursue a career in banking. After all, his dad thought bankers must have a good life since banks were open only until 3 p.m. at that time. But much to his father’s chagrin, the young man ended up with a B.Sc. in agriculture from the University of Saskatchewan with a poultry science major.  

“People can’t always understand where your interests will lead you,” says Classen, but he feels lucky to have loving family members who supported him even though their choices may not have been the same.

Classen’s mentor through his undergraduate degree, Roy Crawford, had done graduate work at the University of Massachusetts, so it was more than just coincidence that his own interest in research took him there as well. By then he was married with a year-old daughter and that’s when he and his young family left Saskatchewan for the first time. With a University of Saskatchewan jacket slung over one shoulder and a pony porta-potty for his little daughter slung over the other, he travelled with his family by bus and train to Massachusetts with all their worldly possessions in 23 boxes, including their pots and pans.

At the University of Massachusetts, Classen did two degrees under the supervision of his key mentor, J. Robert Smyth Jr. With his thesis written, he was quickly accepted for an assistant professor position at Pennsylvania State University, where he worked for one and a half years.

But when a professor at the University of Saskatchewan retired, Classen saw a chance to come home. His wife came with him for the interview but he didn’t tell anyone else, wanting to make the decision without outside pressure.

That’s when the phone in the hotel room rang – it was his Aunt Betty, welcoming him back to the province. “Within a half hour we realized there were no secrets in Saskatchewan,” he says. He was glad to be home. That was 1978.

It has now been 35 years since Classen returned home to Saskatchewan, and as he says, “I’m still here and having fun.”

For Classen, being appointed as Industrial Research Chair is “a big honour that the poultry industry had confidence in me and put a lot of money on the table to make this happen.”

Even the organizing committee questioned if his ambitious mandate meant he was biting off more than he could chew, but organizing 20 studies in poultry nutrition – with three undergraduate, five M.Sc. and four PhD students, two post-doctoral fellows and a professional research associate – while addressing the requirements of nine sponsors, will all follow a logical sequence of events. “It’s the way I like to do research,” says Classen, who expressed great confidence in his team and collaborators.

Funding for the five-year project has been provided through NSERC and poultry industry organizations in Saskatchewan, allowing Classen and his team to study starch and protein utilization in poultry and its potential to affect production, health and welfare.

With this award the University of Saskatchewan will also hire a new poultry scientist, which Classen says is important to the stakeholders in this research as well as to Canadian poultry science research in general.
Published in New Technology
Agricultural disease is one of the biggest hurdles for any farmer, processor or industry to overcome; never mind the damage it causes to the environment and economy of a region. While the implementation of biosecurity measures is key in the control of such diseases, it does not deal directly with the problem.

The Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency Ltd. (ALMA) is working with a team of researchers to create a new vaccine for poultry to help prevent the spread and damage that two pathogens cause to poultry producers – Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens.

Dr. Christine Szymanski, a University of Alberta professor and one of the researchers involved in the project, said that the preferred method of control for these two pathogens would be a vaccine, as it can help reduce the risk of contamination of eggs and meat without the use of antibiotics. This is especially important due to the concerns from both consumers and producers regarding antibiotic resistance.

The researchers decided on Salmonella because of its ability to cause foodborne illnesses in humans, and Clostridium perfringens, which causes necrotic enteritis in broilers in addition to food poisoning in humans.

“While C. perfringens is the most common and financially devastating bacterial disease in commercial flocks, no effective chicken vaccine is commercially available,” said Szymanski. “And salmonella in humans is caused by consumption of contaminated eggs and poultry products, and results in potentially severe gastrointestinal issues.”

The vaccine research is based on Szymanski’s development of a successful carbohydrate-based poultry vaccine for another common foodborne pathogen, Campylobacter jejuni. This was accomplished through the use of bacterial glycomics, the investigation of sugars (also known as glycans), especially those found on the surface of the bacteria.

According to Szymanski, the sugars on the surface of pathogenic Salmonella and C. perfringens can be presented on the surface of a non-pathogenic bacteria, which means that a vaccine could be used to stimulate an immune response without the use of the deadly strains.

“This means we can create a vaccine from harmless bacterial strains that will help the bird’s immune system identify and destroy the pathogenic strains. In this way, a single vaccine will simulate an immune response in the bird that will protect it from a broad array of Salmonella and C. perfringens strains.”

She added that combining the two vaccines into one would provide an inexpensive vaccine against the two problematic pathogens. In doing so, this could eliminate the need for antibiotics for both diseases.

This is especially important for C. perfringens, Szymanski said, which currently can only be controlled through the addition of antibiotics into the drinking water.

Glycan-based vaccines are not new, as human glycoconjugate vaccines have been routinely used for less than 20 years with minimal side-effects, and are routinely given to infants. Similarly, no side-effects have been seen with the C. jejuni chicken vaccine, and the live non-pathogenic organisms in the vaccine are only in the system long enough to induce an immune response before being cleared from the chicken entirely.

“Right now, researchers struggle to obtain a reproducible two-log drop in campylobacter colonization from chickens,” said Szymanski. “In our studies, we reproducibly observe six to eight logs drop in campylobacter colonization – with many birds having undetectable levels of C. jejuni in their intestines.”

Dr. Susan Novak, ALMA’s research manager, said, “A glycan-based vaccine would be a transformative advancement for the poultry industry. The use of antibiotics could be reduced if producers are able to give their birds a dual vaccine that boosts the immunity against multiple strains with a single shot. Alberta is leading the world in this area and that is a point of pride for our industry as well as a real competitive edge.”

In addition, Drs. Szymanski and Mario Feldman have spun off a company, VaxAlta Inc. in Edmonton that builds on their studies in bacterial glycomics. They were the first to identify the C. jejuni glycan pathway and show that sugar systems can be mixed and matched to produce novel glycoconjugates. Szymanski and Feldman are now exploiting this expertise toward the development of novel glycoconjugate vaccines for use in agriculture.

“The next step in our research is to optimize the carbohydrate-based vaccine against C. jejuni and create an effective dual vaccine against Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens. Glycoconjugate vaccines against other pathogens found in poultry, cattle and pigs are also in the pipeline,” said Szymanski.
Published in Genetics
In 1946, there were about 300 Canadian commercial chicken breeders, and most or all Canadian research institutions conducting poultry research maintained their own genetic lines.  By the 1980s there were only two primary breeders based in Canada – Shaver and Hybrid – as well as 13 middle-level breeders of chickens, turkeys, and waterfowl, and 119 populations kept in 11 research institutions.  

Today, two breeders dominate the international market for layers, broilers (90 per cent) and turkeys.  As well, there are hardly any middle-level breeders left in Canada, and until recently, five Canadian institutions conducting agricultural research kept 38 populations of chickens and Japanese quail.

The Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Agassiz, B.C,, has recently terminated its poultry unit, including nine lines of chickens and nine lines of Japanese quail.

It is clear that avian researchers and the poultry industry have experienced a massive loss of genetic resources. Maintaining live flocks is impractical and very costly, and economical methods of preserving poultry genetics for future use are badly needed, as genetic resources continue to narrow.  

In the recent past, the only effective method of conserving poultry germplasm has been in living animals. Alternative options have been attempted over the years, but results have not been very promising. Fertility obtained from cryopreserved chicken semen is unpredictable and the structure of the avian egg prevents its cryopreservation. Embryonic cells can be stored and used to generate germline chimeras (organisms with a mixture of cells from different embryos), but this requires complex procedures and results in very low efficiency. Over the past century, chicken ovarian transplantation has been attempted with limited success.  

Successful development of techniques for cryopreservation and transplantation of ovaries and testicles of birds can provide the means of maintaining the genetic variation needed for full differentiation of markets for poultry meat and eggs. Dr. Fred Silversides, formerly of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, together with Drs. Yonghong Song (Dubai), Jianan Liu (USDA post-doctoral research fellow) and Kim Cheng (UBC), has been working on optimizing cryopreservation and transplantation of avian gonadal tissue.  

The first step in this research, which was Dr. Jianan Liu’s PhD project, was aimed at simplifying the storage process for cryopreserved genetic material by using vitrification, which converts liquid to a glass-like substance instead of ice crystals, and has several advantages over slow-freezing procedures in preserving tissue.

A vitrification protocol was developed to preserve Japanese quail ovarian and testicular tissue, using cryoprotective agents and acupuncture needles to facilitate tissue handling. Rather than using cryovials typically used for cryopreservation, a simpler straw system was tested and found to be an ideal storage medium, as it has the advantage of fitting into existing systems for storage and transport.

Normal morphology of testicular tissue was observed after in ovo culture and live offspring were produced by performing surgical insemination directly into the hen’s oviduct with the extrusion of cryopreserved testicular tissue. Donor-derived offspring were also efficiently produced from cryopreserved and transplanted ovarian tissue.

Also, because gonadal transplantation is critical to functional recovery of cryopreserved tissue but can be limited by tissue rejection, the researchers used thymic tissue to improve the efficiency of immunological acceptance. Donor thymic tissue was implanted into recipient embryos, and gonadal tissue from the same donor was transplanted under the skin to the recipient after hatching. Transplant viability and histology were also examined.  

It was found that thymic implantation might improve survival of gonadal transplants from chicken to chicken, but not transplants from quail to chickens. Investigations into avian ovarian transplantation led to intriguing additional observations: donor-derived offspring were produced from transplanted adult quail ovarian tissue, although delayed age at first egg and reduced reproductive longevity were observed with the transplants. As well, offspring with chimeric plumage coloration were produced from cryopreserved and transplanted chicken ovarian tissue, indicating chimeric folliculogenesis.

This project provides a successful model of cryobanking avian gonadal tissue using a simple vitrification method and suggests future directions in improving transplantation tolerance and using gonadal transplantation in avian research. This is good news for the poultry industry, as cryobanking of germplasm is both economical and ensures availability of genetic resources for years to come. To read more about this research project, please visit

The Poultry Industry Council congratulates Dr. Fred Silversides on his 2013 Poultry Science Association American Egg Board Research Award.

The American Egg Board Research Award is given to increase the interest in research pertaining to egg science technology or marketing that has a bearing on egg or spent hen utilization. The award is given to an author for a manuscript published in Poultry Science or The Journal of Applied Poultry Research during the preceding year.
Published in Health
In September of this year, the University of Guelph received a $1 million gift to help fund a professorship in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC). The generous donation from James and Brenda McIntosh will help improve poultry nutrition research, training and outreach.

James McIntosh earned both an undergraduate degree in 1959 and a master’s degree in 1961 (in poultry nutrition) from the university. “My years at the university were enjoyable, both as a time to learn and as a time to make lifelong friendships,” says McIntosh.

“The OAC is where I met Brenda, my wife and business partner, and the friendships I developed proved invaluable in my career in agriculture. Plus, being a graduate of OAC provided an immediate introduction and connection to others in the agricultural industry who graduated from the same school.”

The gift is significant in a number of ways, says OAC dean Rob Gordon. “In particular, it is so fantastic when some of our alumni are able to provide back to the institution,” says Gordon. “And certainly this McIntosh gift is a perfect example of an individual who is a graduate from our program who’s giving back, which we appreciate.”

Gordon says that the gift also allows the Animal Poultry Science department, as well as the Ontario Agricultural College, to continue to be recognized as leaders in supporting the poultry industry in Ontario, both nationally and internationally.

The major aspect of poultry production continues to be the cost, he says. As well, research on feed digestion and the absorption of nutrients will greatly help to improve the efficiency of the industry. Guelph hopes that the person who fills this position will work closely with the feed industry, as well as the various poultry organizations, to further create opportunities for innovation and improved efficiency.

The hiring process has already begun with the formation of a selection committee, and the university is currently consulting with industry organizations to put together a strategic plan, making sure they are all on the same page when it comes to the industry’s needs.

“We want to make sure that we attract the best candidates from all over the world for this position,” says Gordon.

The university expects that the position will be filled by the spring or summer of 2014. “We really feel the need to move forward as efficiently and effectively as possible, but at the same time want to make sure we find the right person,” he says.

It is expected that someone who is strongly focused on improving the feed efficiency and production capacity of the sector will fill the new professorship. “As part of that, they’re going to be looking for alternative feeds, improved feed use efficiencies, as well as other attributes that affect the whole context of nutrition,” says Gordon.

Michael Leslie, a poultry nutritionist with Masterfeeds, is thrilled about the news of the new professorship. He says in terms of available ingredients and production targets, Ontario’s poultry and feed industries are quite different from those in the United States, and even Western Canada.

“To have a professor at the university that is familiar with local conditions and able to help feed companies and producers meet our goals is much more valuable than importing talent periodically to try to find solutions to our problems,” says Leslie. “In addition, a local professor would keep on top of research going on across Canada and the rest of the world and be able to pass that knowledge along to our industry.”

Perhaps more important though, is the potential for the improved training of University of Guelph graduates. With the recent retirement of Dr. Steve Leeson, there’s some concern that Guelph graduates will have not acquired the necessary background in poultry nutrition through the Animal and Poultry Science Department, which means the industry would be hiring graduates who had no prior experience in poultry.

“This position will fill that gap and result in better trained, well-rounded graduates,” says Leslie.

“We really appreciate the McIntosh family for this transformational gift,” concludes Gordon. “It’s something that is allowing us to move forward during a time when the ability to hire new faculty at universities is often quite limited.”
Published in Housing
The use of phytogenic feed additives and probiotics has been well researched and is growing around the world. Livestock and poultry scientists across the globe continue to look at these natural substances as a way to replace antibiotics, control the growth of harmful micro-organisms in the digestive tract and boost animal performance. They are natural, have proven and positive effects, and require no withdrawal time before slaughter. However, although the benefits of both these additives are already well documented, much more research needs to be done to determine the best practices and detailed cost-effectiveness.  

First, probiotics are “good” bacteria given in dry inert form that are activated in the intestines of livestock and poultry. They implant, grow and change the ecology in a positive way by reducing pathogen populations within the animal. Probiotics have been shown to help birds cope with the stresses of day-to-day life in densely populated flocks, and can also be particularly beneficial in high-stress periods such as transport, drastic weather events or ration changes.

“Probiotics are multifaceted products with a variety of beneficial effects for chickens,” says Dr. Shayan Sharif, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. “Probiotic formulations have been shown to reduce the burden of pathogens in the chicken intestine, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium and coccidia. In addition, probiotics can enhance immune competence of the bird, leading to better immune responses elicited by vaccines and also better resistance to infectious pathogens.” He adds, “In broilers, probiotics have been shown to be effective to increase growth performance and feed conversion, along with enhanced immune competence. In layers, probiotics also show positive effects on enhancing immune status as well as a positive impact on egg mass, egg weight and egg size.”

Sharif notes that because probiotics exert their effect through changes to the gastrointestinal microflora, they are most effective when given at an early age while digestive microflora is still being established. Therefore, there are generally different recommendations for broilers and layers.

There is not a lot of data on the use of probiotics in Canada, which Sharif thinks may be partly related to the required approval process. “I presume the use of probiotics in the European Union, South America, Asia and the U.S. is much more common,” he says.

“Based on an estimate by Lallemand (a Canadian company based in Quebec that researches, develops and produces yeasts, bacteria and related products), the probiotic market in 2009 was worth close to $600 million.” Other market analyses, he adds, reveal that among feed supplements, probiotics have the highest rate of growth of use.  

Dr. Doug Korver also believes probiotics have a place in poultry production, but notes some technical and practical limitations. “The efficacy of probiotics is dependent on live bacteria being delivered to the digestive tract,” notes the associate professor in the Department of Poultry Nutrition at the University of Alberta, “[so] this makes issues such as shelf life, heat stability, compatibility with other ingredients very important.”

He also points out that simple probiotics, such as those with a few bacterial species, tend to be less effective than complex probiotics (which have many species), because a single bacterial species cannot always form a stable population. “The products I am aware of in Canada tend to be ‘simple’ probiotics, but I can’t comment specifically on the efficacy of any product,” he says. “There was a complex product available in the U.S. for a time, with about 29 bacterial species, I believe, but it stopped being produced a number of years ago because of the complexity of maintaining all of these species in continuous culture.”

Like Sharif, Korver thinks probiotics are likely most effective when given early in life, when the birds’ guts are more or less sterile. “In that case, a simple probiotic might be able to prevent colonization by a pathogen, even if it doesn’t stay over time,” he says. “It allows a ‘bridge’ between the naïve gut and the mature microflora the bird will have as it gets older.”

The beneficial probiotic bacteria are intended to occupy the surface of the intestine, and pathogenic bacteria are then unable to bind, which is necessary for colonization. “If they can’t bind, they get washed out with the fecal material,” Korver explains.

Like probiotics, phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) help prevent intestinal disorders and boost the health and growth rate of livestock and birds. These plant-derived products, which are mainly essential oils, can also improve feed intake by boosting palatability. PFAs have been shown to improve egg production, increase immunity in laying hens and broilers and provide beneficial effects on eggshell characteristics. Sharif says research has shown that carvacrol (from oregano) cinnamaldehyde (from cinnamon) and capsaicin (from chili peppers) can also improve the growth performance of poultry.

“The use of essential oils as feed additives for agricultural animals is gaining popularity,” he notes. “Essential oils are another possible alternative to antimicrobial growth promoters.”

Dr. Todd Applegate, a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Purdue University in Indiana, agrees. He points out that current estimates of PFA use in combined livestock/aquaculture/poultry diets in the European Union are around 20 per cent, and increasing.

“Phytogenic products certainly are discussed extensively within the U.S., but there is not nearly as much market penetration as in the EU,” Applegate says. “This may be due, in part, to the time which those products have been on the market and familiarity with cost/benefit. In contrast, the U.S. market has had a much longer history with probiotic products (since the 1980s), and thus there is more familiarity and somewhat better acceptance.”

Applegate notes that a PFA’s physiological effects vary depending on several factors, including which plant it comes from. “For example, some can be immune-stimulatory (for example, ginseng) versus others which can be immunosuppressive (like Ginko biloba),” he explains. “The physiologic effects that we have observed in our laboratory have been through changes to chemical composition of the mucus layer in the intestine.”

He adds that many of the PFAs on the market today contain blends of several plant extracts, and their benefits can vary due to the blend itself as well as the processes used to extract and retain the essential oils.

The effect of PFAs will also take some time, depending on their properties. “For example, if they impart an effect on changing the mucin production in the bird,” explains Applegate, “due to the time it takes to have a cellular effect on cell identity and processes, it could be upwards of a week before intestinal cells can completely ‘turn over’ and thus be completely influenced.”

Applegate says producers must keep in mind that each PFA and probiotic product on the market is very unique in terms of its specific attributes, and therefore neither should be considered as a “commodity” product. “For example, some have targeted specific pathogen reduction capacities, while others may have been selected for production traits of bacteriocins (antimicrobial compounds), adherence to the epithelial surface, longevity within the digestive tract, and/or production/use characteristics (thermal stability, chlorine resistance, etc.),” he notes.

Hopefully, much more Canadian research will be conducted on the effects, best use practices and detailed cost-effectiveness of PFAs and probiotics. In the meantime, interested growers should do their research and consult with trusted feed experts and nutritionists.

We would like to hear from growers who have had experience with these feed additives; please contact the editor.
Published in Nutrition and Feed
Oct. 18, 2013 - Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart announced $17.25 million in funding over the next five years for 13 strategic research chairs.  These world-class research chairs will help ensure that Saskatchewan has the capacity to further develop new crop varieties, expand the sector’s knowledge and enhance technologies to grow the agriculture industry.

“This funding ensures that we have highly-qualified scientists whose work in the lab transfers to results in the field,” Stewart said.  “Their research provides Saskatchewan producers with the tools and information to be industry leaders, increase production and continue producing safe, reliable products to feed a growing world population.”

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture’s Strategic Research Program focuses on four areas: crop genetic improvement; livestock development; food and bioproducts development; and, soils and environment.  Each chair consists of a scientist and a technician who reside at the University of Saskatchewan.  The program assures stable funding to facilitate the recruitment and retention of the best research personnel.  The chairs are responsible for attracting project funding from programs offered by public and private sectors to support their respective research program.

“This investment provides crucial support to our current researchers and resources to attract more world-class scientists to create knowledge to help farmers prosper and help feed a growing world population,” University of Saskatchewan Vice-President for Research Karen Chad said.

This funding includes the creation of a new forage research chair in 2013, as a result of feedback from industry groups.  Since 2007, the federal and provincial governments have committed $35 million to the Strategic Research Program.

For more information on the program and Growing Forward 2, please visit the Saskatchewan Agriculture website at or the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada website at
Published in Turkeys
A commercial-scale study of housing alternatives for laying hens is being conducted by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply in the United States. The coalition is studying each housing system closely and evaluating the viability of the many variables of each, including environmental impact, food safety, worker safety, animal health and well-being, and food affordability.

According to the coalition, the research will aid food companies and other organizations in making purchasing decisions that are ethically grounded, scientifically verified and economically viable.

Earlier this year, Dr. Janice Siegford from Michigan State University (MSU) shared some of the preliminary results at the sixth Annual Animal Research Symposium at the University of Guelph.

Siegford and her team are studying hen welfare and behaviour in aviary systems, in co-operation with research teams from the University of California and Iowa State University, evaluating all three systems for environmental quality, human health, food safety and economics. “So we’re really trying to do a whole system analysis so that the data we get out of this can be put into context,” says Siegford.

The need for this research stems from a combination of public pressure and regulatory changes: in some U.S. states, new regulations dictate that laying hens must have room to stand and stretch their wings without touching the cage.

Since conventional cages are no longer an option, producers are left deciding which system is best to transition into. Research has been limited on the subject, and more often than not, focused on conventional systems.

“Do these alternative systems actually improve welfare?” asks Siegford. “We’re giving them these things, but are we giving them in a way that’s meaningful to the hen?”

No matter which factors you consider – economics, welfare or food safety – research shows that no system is perfect. “We haven’t got it perfect yet, for sure,” Siegford says. “With the enriched system, there are a lot of nice features in terms of providing the hens with the different kinds of environmental features that they might like, keeping things like cannibalism to a minimum, keeping disease transmission on a low scale, etc.”

She points out that the enriched system still preserves some of the good aspects of the conventional system; for example, hens still drop eggs into clean nests. Rollout belts are used so that eggs stay clean and there is not as much potential for breakage or egg loss. Droppings are carried away on belts and kept contained, so from an environmental and food safety standpoint, they’re very clean.

“And you still have pretty good feed efficiency and feed conversion,” says Siegford. “One of the issues with hens when you move to some of the other housing systems, is that if you put fewer hens in a building, they’re generating less body heat and then you have to feed them more to increase heat or pump more heat into the building.

“With the enriched systems, you can still have a fairly large number of hens per square foot, so you still avoid some of those problems. If you’ve got hens that are constantly outside of their thermal-neutral zone, then it becomes a welfare issue.”

When it comes to hen welfare, though, the best option for laying hens is dependent on their strain. “If you have hens that are fairly mellow and not likely to pick on each other, then putting them in an aviary system does give them a lot of behavioural freedom. They can make a lot of choices, have a lot of control over how they spend their day, and then they’re not likely to suffer being picked on or pecked at by other hens.”

Unfortunately, though, a lot of the high-producing strains do pick on one another. “You can’t just say that the aviary’s universally better for welfare for all hens because cannibalism is obviously really an ugly problem,” says Siegford.

“Sometimes you give chickens the freedom of choice and they do some pretty awful things to each other.”

Another welfare issue with hens is bone breakage. Regardless of which system you use, bone breakage will always be an issue. The same is true with feather loss, which occurs around their necks from feeding in caged systems. In the non-caged and outdoor free-range systems, feather loss problems are a result of pecking.

As Siegford and her team at MSU reviewed the preliminary data, they were most surprised by the perching behaviour of the hens. Although the aviaries provided perches on all three levels, their usage was not as evenly distributed as the researchers expected.

“When you look at those hens perching at night, even though within each level the perches are six inches above the floor, they still cram into the top level to perch at night,” says Siegford. “You see the most birds up top, an intermediate number of birds in the middle and very few birds on that bottom level.

“So even though we’re providing them in the furnished cages, we still haven’t gotten the perches right yet,” she continues.

Siegford credits producers and manufacturers with being innovative, though. “Most of them are making an effort to provide hens with things like perches, nesting areas, litter potentially for dust bathing, things of that nature, that hens have demonstrated to be strongly motivated to perform or that do substantially improve welfare. But it’s just not that simple.”


As producers transition from conventional to new alternative systems, it is important to know that considerable liabilities still exist in terms of economic efficiency, hen welfare and biosecurity, and it cannot be assumed that non-cage systems will improve hen welfare to a level that is acceptable to both producers and consumers.

Although enriched systems appear to be the best choice, the jury is still out. While the data has not yet been analyzed, Siegford’s team has finished collecting information from the second flock and its final report should be available sometime in 2014.
Published in Layers
Birds depend on increasing day length as a signal to mature sexually, which means that controlling and manipulating photoperiod is critical to optimize reproduction in poultry. The type and quality of light used also is very important, with broad-spectrum lighting traditionally being used to successfully control reproduction.  


Conventional artificial light sources such as incandescent lighting provide a broad spectrum and have been extensively used by the poultry industry very successfully. However, incandescent lighting is the least efficient of any existing light source and its sale is to be phased out. This means that new, more efficient lighting sources need to be used – but these also need to be well researched to ensure the future prosperity of the poultry industry.

The spectrum provided by a lighting source not only looks different to the eye, but also affects bird physiology differently. Previous research has shown that light in the red end of the spectrum can penetrate the skull and directly stimulate the reproductive axis, while lower wavelengths from the blue/green end of the spectrum may be inhibitory to reproduction.  Therefore, it may be possible to use a lighting system that is extremely efficient but using only part of the light spectrum to achieve the desired outcome.


Dr. Grégoy Bédécarrats’ research program at the University of Guelph is focused on light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which can be adjusted to produce any spectrum under unlimited luminance settings with minimal energy input. As such, this technology represents the best option for energy friendly, sustainable poultry farming in Ontario. Bédécarrats was interested in the effect of light wavelength on laying hens in order to design a novel LED lighting system to promote egg-laying without negatively impacting health and welfare.


Computer controlled LED light fixtures were mounted on top of conventional cages and the research barn was divided into three sections where hens were exposed to either pure green, white or pure red wavelengths. To determine whether any effect was mediated via the retina of the eye, a blind line of Smoky Joe chickens (containing both blind and temporarily sighted hens) was used. As the egg-laying industry progressively transitions toward colony-enriched cages and aviary systems, the research team also tested the effect of light wavelength on commercial layers housed in collective floor pens. Data was collected on their behaviour and social interactions (such as activity and aggressiveness), as well as on production levels.


The team’s findings showed that red light promoted an early, strong stimulation of the reproductive axis with a longer and higher peak production, while green light resulted in delayed sexual maturation. Since the researchers observed no difference between blind and sighted hens, they concluded that the retina of the eye does not appear to be involved in mediating the effect of light on reproduction.

Results also show that, unlike the line of Smoky Joe Leghorn (which has not been selected for egg production), commercial layers spontaneously matured prior to photostimulation, and as a result, light wavelength did not impact age at first egg or peak production.


Nonetheless, red light was once again superior in stimulating the production of sex hormones. Interestingly, green light promoted utilization of nest boxes but also resulted in the desynchronization of ovulation with eggs being laid equally during day and night. Finally, light spectrum had no major significant effect on feed consumption, body weight gain, stress or aggressiveness.


In conclusion, this work demonstrates that a light bulb within the red spectrum is the best option to promote optimum egg production without any significant impact on feed consumption, health and behaviour.  

To that end, Dr. Bédécarrats has entered a partnership with a Canadian company (Thies Electrical Distributing Co.) to develop spectrum lighting LED bulbs suitable for use in barns and a product designed for the egg-laying industry is currently undergoing CSA and Energy Star certification. Follow-up research is currently ongoing to validate the use of this bulb in commercial settings.
Published in Environment
Mike Petrik has been a laying hen veterinarian for 15 years and has just completed his master of science in animal welfare at the University of Guelph under the supervision of animal behaviour and welfare specialist Tina Widowski, professor in the department of Animal and Poultry Science, and Michele Geurin, DVM, an associate professor specializing in poultry management at the Ontario Veterinary College.

Petrik’s research will set a baseline for welfare parameters in floor and conventional cage barns for laying hens, comparing the incidence of keel bone fracture rates and feather condition between the two housing systems.

Although it is scientifically established that hens in conventional cages have weaker bones than cage-free hens due to lack of exercise (one of the welfare concerns of cages), the high-producing hen of today typically depletes the calcium in her bones, which leads to osteoporosis and fragile bones. In non-cage systems there is an increased risk for injury – even though hens’ bones are stronger. The keel bone, which is the pointed bone where the breast muscles attach (similar to the sternum in humans), seems to be one of the most affected. Fractures and deformities of keel bones have become one of the top welfare issues of the laying hen.

While studies have been done in Europe, Petrik says this is the first study of its kind in North America: “Since our production methods, housing densities, nutrition and egg size targets are quite different, our rates may be quite different.”

Petrik collected data from 10 cage-housed systems and 10 floor barns (“free-run”) at 20 farms across Ontario, using all brown birds for consistency. Fifty birds were weighed at each location and feather scored at four different stages of lay. He also checked production and mortality records for the possibility of any correlated data and assessed flocks at different ages in order to determine when the majority of these fractures occur.

Overall, the results are showing that keel bone breakage rates in Ontario birds are similar to those in the rest of the world.  

To test if a hen’s keel bones was broken, Petrik tested a palpation procedure proposed by a group out of Bristol, U.K. As part of his study, a group of masters students each palpated 100 birds, showing the palpation procedure to be reliable and accurate. Petrik then used this palpation technique to evaluate live birds in different stages of lay. Using this technique means that the hens don’t need to be euthanized to be assessed, allowing the use of this type of assessment in a welfare audit. The technique also allows repeated measures to be taken in a single flock, giving some idea as to time of incidence of the fracture.

Petrik still has a lot of questions: How do they break their keel bone? In non-caged housing, birds will fly but they are lousy at landing, often crashing into water bowls, feed bowls, other birds and even stumbling on the floor. But in caged housing, are the birds just fragile?

“It’s hard to say,” ponders Petrik, when bone strength and hardness are noticeably higher when birds are kept on the floor, not housed in cages, and yet breakage rates are still higher.

His suspicion is that in cage systems the breakage comes from the pressure put on the keel bone while the hen squats on the cage bottom to rest or sleep with their entire weight on their keel bone, but he has no proof. “Like most things, the more you find out, the less you know,” he says. He sees keel breakage as a multi-factorial issue, one where “we don’t even understand causation well yet.”

The final results will be released by December. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Egg Farmers of Canada have provided funding for the study.

To learn about U.S.-based research regarding various types of hen housing and their effects on environmental quality, human health, food safety and economics, see page 34.

This new regular series of articles is part of the communications plan of the Poultry Welfare Centre. For more information, visit the Canadian Virtual Centre for Poultry Welfare at
Published in Layers
Government funding organizations are increasingly looking to industry to show a commitment to research and ensure that funds are allocated to address industry priorities. The industry has responded by increasing its co-operation in setting research priorities and making funding commitments.

For example, a broad range of industry stakeholders provided input on the research priorities and desired outcomes recently published in the National Research Strategy for Canada’s Poultry Sector, available on the “Research” page of our website,  The document is designed as a general road map to help guide Canadian poultry research efforts over the next several years through co-operation, co-ordination and communication, so that all those involved in Canadian poultry research are working together to develop the most effective and efficient research system possible. The strategy will be reviewed and updated regularly based on industry consultation, in order to ensure that it reflects changes in the poultry sector.

Industry co-operation in funding was evident in CPRC’s recent proposal for a new Poultry Science Cluster to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriInnovation Program. Nineteen industry organizations and companies committed over $1.7 million to support the cluster’s five-year program to aid 18 research projects. Nine of the funding co-operators are producer organizations and 10 are corporations providing poultry industry inputs or processing poultry products.  

The research projects fall into four major themes:
  1. Infectious diseases of poultry
  2. Alternative animal health products and management strategies
  3. Poultry welfare and well-being
  4. Environmental stewardship
Announced in September 2012, CPRC’s Research Sponsorship Program presents an opportunity for further funding and co-operation through the support of Aviagen Inc., the inaugural sponsor. Aviagen continues to support Canadian poultry research with its 2013 sponsorship contribution, which will be used to enhance the annual research contributions from CPRC’s member organizations. A review of CPRC-funded research projects showed that all parts of the poultry value chain benefit from research discoveries, including producers, feed suppliers, animal health-care companies and professionals, processors, distributors and consumers.    

CPRC’s Research Sponsorship Program offers a range of support levels to allow industry stakeholders to choose a sponsorship option that fits their budget. Details of the research sponsorship program, sponsor benefits and an application can be found on the “Sponsorship” page of our website. CPRC’s board and member organizations thank Aviagen Inc. for its leadership in supporting Canadian poultry research.

Brian Bilkes has replaced Cheryl Firby as the Canadian Hatching Egg Producers (CHEP) representative on the CPRC Board. We thank Cheryl for her valuable input during her three years on the board and look forward to working with Brian. Brian has been the alternate director to CHEP from British Columbia since March 2010. Brian serves as chair of CHEP’s research committee and the Canadian Broiler Hatching Egg Producers’ Association. Brian is also the vice-chair of the B.C. Broiler Hatching Egg Commission (BCBHEC) and has served on the board of the BCBHEC since 2008.

Brian graduated from Trinity Western University with an honours bachelor of business administration in 1994. After working in the construction and real estate development industry for a number of years, he purchased a broiler hatching egg operation in Chilliwack, B.C., in 2005. He always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, a hatching egg producer in Seaforth, Ont., from the 1960s to the 1980s. Brian also is involved with a large dairy operation in Chilliwack, and a meat wholesale and retail operation in B.C. He passionately supports research and wants to see the poultry and agricultural industries continually improve to the long-term benefit of poultry and agriculture in Canada.

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

The membership of the CPRC consists of 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 Welfare
The University of Saskatchewan has been examining the impact of microwave toe trimming on the productivity and welfare of commercial turkeys – both in hens (Experiment 1) and in toms (Experiment 2). As part of her M.Sc. candidacy, Jocelyn Fournier led the turkey tom research.

In Fournier’s work, nine replicate pens of 17 commercial Hybrid Converter toms were grown to 20 weeks of age. One-half of these toms were trimmed (T) using the Nova-Tech Microwave Claw Processor at a commercial hatchery on day of hatch, while the other half were untrimmed (UT), but sham treated on the same equipment.  

To facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the toe treatment, a wide range of response variables were measured, including those related to production (body weight, feed intake, feed efficiency), health (mortality and morbidity, histological healing), mobility (through gait score), balance parameters (toe length, posture assessment) and behaviour.

As well, the birds were followed to the commercial slaughterhouse, where their carcasses were examined for scratching and lesions.

Body weight did not differ between the birds until 91 days of age, at which point the UT toms were heavier than the T (12.23 versus 11.93 kg). This trend continued to the final weights at 20 weeks, which were 21.70 for the UT birds and 21.15 kg for the T toms.

Feed consumption differed during the first seven days, with the T birds consuming less feed (0.117 kg) than the UT birds (0.133) – which may be indicative of pain or an unknown sensation in the toes. However, the seven-to-14-day period showed no difference in feed consumption, indicating that the earlier effect was short lasting.

Feed consumption was reduced again for the T birds late in the experiment and could be related to their reduced growth rate at this time. No differences in feed efficiency were noted throughout the trial.

Behavioural monitoring indicated that UT birds were more lethargic on day one and spent less time inactively resting, but more time feeding, standing and walking. Similar results were shown at three and five days of age, which were proven to be significant or approaching significance.

This change in behaviour corresponds to the reduced feed intake of the T birds noted above, with a similar interpretation of pain or abnormal sensations in treated toes. Behavioural observations at 133 days found no differences, except that T birds stood more (27.1 per cent) and walked less (4.6 per cent) than UT turkeys (24.1 and 5.6 per cent, respectively).  

However, gait score measured at seven, 11, 16 and 20 weeks of age did not differ between the treatments.

As turkeys age and their size increases, shorter toes on T birds may result in an inability to maintain balance. In order to assess balance, Fournier measured the angle between a horizontal line through the point where the breast meets the leg, and a line from that point following the line of the breast.

No differences were noted between toms of the two treatments in this study; however, a significant change occurred as the birds aged, regardless of treatment.

Finally, the level of scratching on the carcasses did not differ between treatments. This is in contrast to the data found in the hen flock, where UT carcasses had significantly more severe scratches than the T carcasses.

Fournier concludes that, based on this study focusing on productivity and welfare, toe trimming of heavy turkey toms may not be necessary.

This new regular series of articles is part of the communications plan of the Poultry Welfare Centre. For more information, visit the Canadian Virtual Centre for Poultry Welfare at
Published in Turkeys
Arobust research program is key to the future of the poultry industry, and the Canadian industry is fortunate to have access to a wide range of research expertise that can help us meet new challenges and find solutions to the problems we face. However, maintaining that pool of expertise requires an injection of new scientists that pick up where retirees leave off. The Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC) promotes succession in the poultry research community by offering a scholarship program to help attract and retain students.

The objectives of the program are as follows:
  • to encourage and support graduate students to carry out poultry science research
  • to build Canada’s intellectual capacity in poultry science
  • to promote graduate research in poultry science at Canadian universities
To be eligible for a CPRC scholarship award, a student must be studying (or planning to study) an aspect of poultry science. Applicants are assessed on a number of criteria, including academic performance, research aptitude, career goals and a demonstrated interest in poultry research.

A postgraduate scholarship supplement is available to students who hold a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) scholarship. Several excellent students have received supplements to their scholarships through this program since its inception in 2006, and as of 2011, the CPRC scholarship is also available to non-NSERC scholars. This change broadened the availability of the scholarship program to accommodate more students with an interest in poultry science.

To Apply
Applications to either the scholarship or supplement are due May 1 of each year. Only one award of $7,500 is given out per year and it is available to master’s (eligible for one year) or doctoral level (eligible for up to two years) students.

Details of the program, including  the application requirements and the past winners, are available on the “Scholarship” section of the CPRC website (

And the winner is…
The 2013 CPRC scholarship was awarded to Kayla Price, a PhD student studying under John Barta at the University of Guelph. She is studying Eimeria, the causative organism of coccidiosis in poultry, and looking at practical ways to improve its control in commercial pullets reared on wire floors.

Price’s research has demonstrated the effectiveness of a self-immunization strategy that improves the performance of live cocci vaccines and may reduce the need for coccidiostats, about which there is growing concern over resistance and residues. She has also expanded her original research program to better understand the dynamics of coccidial populations in the bird and in the barn, and to optimize live vaccine doses.

Price has had a very successful academic career thus far, having already published several papers in peer-reviewed journal articles and presented her results at a number of scientific and industry meetings in Canada and abroad. She has received several awards in recognition of her outstanding academic performance.

Beyond academics, Price is highly involved in several activities, both in and outside the university community, aimed at transferring knowledge to potential users of research outcomes, encouraging others to become involved in poultry science and promoting the poultry industry in general.

Price has already made significant contributions to her research program and displays great potential to mature into a scientist of excellent calibre – the kind of scientist we need to help ensure the future success of our industry.

For more details on CPRC activities, please contact the Canadian Poultry Research Council, 350 Sparks St., Suite 1007, Ottawa, ON, K1R 7S8, phone: 613-566-5916, fax: 613-241-5999, e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit us at

The membership of the CPRC consists of 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 Researchers
Page 10 of 19

Subscription Centre

New Subscription
Already a Subscriber
Customer Service
View Digital Magazine Renew

Most Popular

Latest Events

PIC Research Day
Wed May 02, 2018
Westvet 2018
Tue May 15, 2018 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
BC Poultry Symposium
Wed May 16, 2018 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
PIC Human Resource Day
Wed May 16, 2018 @ 8:30AM - 03:30PM
PIC Health Day
Wed Jun 20, 2018