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
Photo courtesy of Maciej Jaros.

Sept. 12, 2013, Ottawa, ON - As wild birds begin their fall migration, Canada's ninth annual Inter-Agency Wild Bird Influenza Survey is underway. The survey is part of global efforts advocated by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to detect avian influenza viruses that could threaten the agricultural sector and human health.

Canada's wild bird survey is coordinated by the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre on behalf of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Environment Canada, as well as provincial and territorial government partners. The survey will have an increased sample size this year, as part of efforts to look for the potential presence of significant influenza viruses and indications of viruses from Europe and Asia.

The survey includes testing live and dead wild birds. Live birds are tested in order to track the viruses circulating in the wild bird population, as well as the genetic changes and exchanges that occur in these viruses over multiple years. Dead birds are tested in order to detect potential presence of highly pathogenic influenza viruses in the wild. The 2013-2014 survey will try to sample approximately 1,500 dead birds and between 1,000 and 2,000 live birds across Canada.

Anyone who finds a dead wild bird should contact the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at 1-866-544-4744 or visit

If the survey were to detect a virus of concern in wild birds in a location close to a poultry flock, the CFIA would alert producers in the area and conduct heightened surveillance in domestic poultry. The CFIA routinely monitors for notifiable avian influenza viruses in commercial flocks.

The CFIA is reminding producers and backyard flock owners of the importance of practicing biosecurity in order to protect their flocks from diseases such as avian influenza and Newcastle disease.

The following key biosecurity measures can help protect poultry health:
  • Do not allow poultry or their feed and water to have contact with wild birds -- particularly ducks and other wild waterfowl, which are known to be reservoirs for avian influenza viruses.
  • Control movements of people, animals, equipment and vehicles on your property.
  • Observe your animals daily for signs of disease.
If you suspect your birds are sick, you should immediately contact a veterinarian, the provincial ministry of agriculture, or a local CFIA office.

For more information on the measures you can take to protect your poultry from diseases, visit
Published in Environment
Sept. 6, 2013, Guelph, ON - The University of Guelph has received a $1-million gift to enhance its capacity in poultry nutrition research, training and outreach.

The donation from James and Brenda McIntosh, owners of McIntosh Poultry Farms Ltd. in Seaforth, Ont., will establish a new professorship through the Department of Animal and Poultry Science in the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC).

The gift was made as part of the University's BetterPlanet Project, a $200-million fundraising campaign to help improve the quality of food, environment, health and communities here and around the world.

The new investment will pay for the McIntosh Family Professorship in Poultry Nutrition for 10 years; the college will then provide base funding for this permanent position.

“James and Brenda McIntosh are long-time friends and supporters of our institution and passionate about agriculture and food production,” said OAC dean Robert Gordon. “Thanks to their commitment and generosity, Guelph will remain a leader in poultry research and education globally. Through their gift, we will be able to continue to develop the next generation of leaders for this important and evolving industry.”

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

"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 agriculture industry who graduated from the same school."

The professorship is expected to be filled in 2014. Gordon said it represents a significant step toward boosting the college’s impact on the industry, nationally and globally. “This leadership gift will help us maintain essential teaching and extension capacity that is relevant to the needs of the industry today and vital for the creation of opportunities for the future.”

The research focus of the professorship will address current industry priorities and issues, Gordon added.
For example, feed still represents the major cost of production in the Ontario poultry industry. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the price of feed due to global changes affecting corn, soybean and other ingredients. Relief from input costs is not expected any time soon.

Research focused on digestion of feed and absorption of nutrients will help improve the overall efficiency of poultry production and be of interest to producers, said Gordon. “We see a real need and opportunity to support the industry through recruiting an individual who will bring to the University a commitment to work collaboratively and develop a world-class program to address these research opportunities.”
Published in Nutrition and Feed
Aug. 28, 2013 - Synergy Agri Group of Nova Scotia is the first winner of the new award for the top Cobb500 breeder performance in Canada.

The award was presented to Synergy Agri production manager Gary McAleer and the production team by Cobb-Vantress technical service manager for Eastern Canada, David Engel, and Canada sales manager Philippe Dufour.

Ranked on adjusted chicks per hen to 65 weeks of age, the company averaged 144.21 chicks per hen housed. "Gary and the team at Synergy have consistently produced great results," said David Engel. "With the number of Cobb parent flocks in Canada steadily increasing, we're very happy to recognize this tremendous achievement."

Gary McAleer thanked the many people involved in gaining the award. He stated: "From the employees who clean barns, egg collectors, caretakers, our transportation team, feed mill employees, office staff to our management team and owners ..... each one of our Synergy team played an important role in realizing our goals which led, in turn, to this award.

"I'd also like to acknowledge the sales and tech team from Cobb-Vantress for their support and guidance over the past several years. To quote Henry Ford: 'Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.' Thanks to everyone who came together to help us attain our goals."

In this inaugural year for Cobb performance awards in Canada, there was also recognition for the best performing individual flocks for the Cobb 500FF and Cobb 500SF lines, based on ranking using chicks per hen adjusted to 65 weeks of age.

Groupe Westco of St. Francois, New Brunswick, was the winner for the best Cobb 500FF flock. The flock from Barn 303, produced 157.7 chicks/hen housed.

Poirier-Berard of St. Felix-de-Valois, Quebec, was the winner for the best Cobb 500SF flock. The flock from Ferme Martineau — Barn #5, produced 147.55 chicks/hen housed.
Published in Genetics
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Gran.

Aug. 26, 2013 - Arsenic is a known carcinogen, has been used in insecticides and is a very potent poison. It also has been used as an additive to poultry and swine feed in order to increase weight gain and feed efficiency, as well as an anti-parasitic.

And since arsenic is toxic, public health experts believe that exposure through water and food needs to be controlled and exposure should be minimized as much as possible. However, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health have found increased levels of arsenic in retail chicken meat from producers who use arsenic-based drugs.

Keeve Nachman, assistant scientist and director of the Farming for the Future Program, says that with all the knowledge regarding arsenic posing a number of adverse health conditions, use of arsenic-based drugs is still perfectly legal. "Despite this, arsenical drug use remains federally-approved in animal production," he said. "This study sought to understand the chemical form of arsenic that remained in chicken meat as a result of arsenical drug use."

The researchers purchased different types of chicken from major metropolitan areas in the U.S. from December 2010 to June 2011. This time frame was used as it coincided with when an arsenic-based drug, roxarsone, was still readily available. They found that chickens likely raised with the drug had four times higher the levels of inorganic arsenic in their meat than those without drugs.

Interestingly, Nachman found that cooking the chicken made the situation worse – not better. "We also found that cooking the chicken increased the fraction of arsenic that was present in the toxic form, and decreased residues of the original, less toxic arsenic-based drug."

Since some arsenic-based drugs (such as nitarsone) are available to producers, Nachman added, their use equates to an unnecessary risk to consumers. The only solution is clear, says Nachman. "Withdrawing these drugs would lower levels of arsenic in chicken and turkey meat, and lower population arsenic exposures."
Published in Consumer

The poultry industry could never be accused of resting on its laurels. It seems that every day there are new initiatives being undertaken to ensure that poultry producers have access to information, technology and the people who can help their farms remain successful.

Now, you can add one more initiative to the growing list – the University of Guelph’s Poultry Health Research Network (PHRN). Guelph has had a long-standing commitment to animal health, but now, the PHRN aims to further tighten technology transfer and enhance poultry research by creating a network of experts, consisting of poultry researchers and poultry health specialists, who address problems ranging from very basic biological processes to environmental concerns and industry-relevant issues.

Dr. Shayan Sharif is leader of the PHRN, which was established in 2012.

“What we are basically trying to do is to create a network of people, poultry researchers, who can address any sort of problem from basic to a very applied type of research,” he says. “This network is part of an integrated plan within the university and is a priority for both the Ontario Veterinary College and the University of Guelph. We are attempting to solidify the interactions between researchers and departments.”

The network aims to provide a forum for collaboration and co-operation not only among researchers within Guelph, but also between Guelph and other Canadian campuses. It will also, hopefully, reduce duplication where applicable.

While Sharif admits that there are other similar initiatives in Canada, and one in Georgia, he says that Guelph’s is unique because rather than focusing on production, as the name implies, this one focuses on health. But the idea is that all will complement each other.

The roster for the network currently includes 36 names, each one, says Sharif, being a “poultry health researcher and specialist.” Most participants (who could be approached or volunteer to participate) are from Guelph, with department affiliations varying from pathobiology and animal science to food science and mathematics – even engineering.

“Our team member from engineering is looking at the effect of poultry industries on the environment and human health. The computer science department is looking at modelling of poultry diseases, mathematically, but using computer software.”

The consumer studies and geography departments are also looking at the influence of poultry production on livelihoods of people, especially women in developing countries.

“In Africa, for example, women are the ones who look after raising chickens, while men look after raising cattle, and that actually has something to do with their social status,” says Sharif. “So, the researcher’s hypothesis is that by changing the way poultry is raised, you can [increase] social status.”

Within the network there is also a lot of expertise in vaccine development and diagnostic testing. There are also two industry members, Tim Nelson  (Livestock Research Innovation Corporation, LRIC) and Brue Roberts (Canadian Poultry Research Council, CPRC). Both organizations fully endorse the initiative, along with the Poultry Industry Council.

The ultimate goal of research programs within the PHRN is to increase poultry health in Canada by facilitation and provision of means for production of safe, healthy and ethically produced poultry and poultry products. A key component is that the network is trying to strengthen interaction with industry, and that is also a top priority for the initiative.

Sharif says another item that’s high the to-do list is to create training programs that will help to qualify personnel for specific tasks. Ideally, he sees opportunities for both students and professionals so that they can become qualified via degree or non-degree programs. OVC has already taken steps toward reaching this goal by providing funding to hire a faculty member in avian diseases and health.

“We have managed to justify the hiring of a faculty person, even in this climate of economic downturn,” muses Sharif. “This person will be able to help with promotion, as well as officially being the avian disease specialist.”

Because the initiative is receiving some funding, the OVC will ensure that the network meets its objectives and remains accountable through a quarterly reporting system that goes directly to the Dean of the OVC, Dr. Elizabeth A. Stone. The network is set up similarly to a board. With Sharif as the leader and coordinator, meetings will be called on a fairly regular basis, given the research work and many hats worn by each of its members. Sharif hopes that they can physically get together at least every three to four months.

The network’s first official meet-and-greet, which took place on July 30, was informal, allowing the participants to become more familiar with one another and their respective research. Sharif says he’s also hoping to hold an industry day to showcase the network. This would be an opportunity for industry stakeholders to interact with members and learn more about what they do, and foster and strengthen interactions with industry.

There are no immediate plans to have the PHRN function as an incorporated organization with brick-and-mortar offices, but Sharif says that is a possibility for the future that obviously would require funding and much support from the industry level to ensure it is warranted.

The PHRN now has a website (, and a Twitter account will follow, which will highlight network information, news and events.

It is key not to confuse what the PHRN does with organizations like the Poultry Industry Council (PIC), CPRC or LRIC.

The PIC remains very involved in setting poultry research priorities and in developing and delivering programs that put the research results to work for industry more effectively and efficiently. Its board decides what it will and won’t fund.

CPRC’s mission, on the other hand, is to address national marketing boards and processor needs through the creation and implementation of programs for poultry research in Canada – which may also include societal concerns.

Says Tim Nelson, “LRIC’s mandate is to work on behalf of all livestock and poultry in Ontario to deliver a better return on investment for our research dollars. We also take on the administration of research for the various sectors, creating a simplified ‘one-window’ approach to research management from OMAF’s perspective and the research provider’s perspective (University of Guelph).”

Within the university, it also is important not to confuse the PHRN with the pre-existing Poultry Program Team (PPT).

The PPT combines the strengths and resources of Ontario’s poultry industry, the provincial government through OMAFRA and the university itself. Only five people, including Sharif, are a part of that team. The others are Gregoy Bedecarrats, Michele Guerin, Csaba Varga and Al Dam. Sharif says the PHRN is a bigger group who can collaborate and co-operate effectively and efficiently, and while the PPT has similar goals, it does have limited scope and mandate, given the narrower expertise.  

“PPT will not necessarily phase out. At the time it was formed, it was an important initiative. The PHRN will envelope the PPT and I see it as a very well cemented nucleus to the larger group.”

Right now, Sharif says that as the co-ordinator, he is spearheading the PHRN, but that doesn’t mean that his research priorities are overshadowed.

“As a part of our vision, there is the provision for funds for an NSERC (National Sciences and Engineering Research Council) industrial chair in poultry health,” says Sharif. “And if that does take place, then the incumbent would take over direction of the whole initiative. They would then have a lot of administrative responsibility and would likely be relieved of some other duties in order to focus more attention to the PHRN. We will likely talk to the four marketing boards about helping to fund this as well.”

Sharif says the PHRN also helps to fulfil the expectations of the new Animal Health Lab and Pathobiology building where his office is situated.

“We’re sitting in a 2 ½-year-old building that was built with $70-75 million of taxpayers’ money – money that came to the university based on the premise that we would be enhancing our diagnostic capacities and animal health research related capacities. I don’t think that there is another facility like this anywhere in North America. We have the critical mass. We have the momentum and the PHRN will help us to maintain that forward impetus.”


PHRN members have expertise in:

  • diseases of poultry (diagnostics, mechanisms, prevention, treatment, modelling and epidemiology)
  • poultry production, nutrition, welfare and economics
  • public health and environmental impacts of poultry production

Current Members

  • Dr. Agnes Agunos, Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Dr. John Barta, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Gregoy Bedecarrats, Animal and Poultry Science
  • Dr. Andrew Bendall, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Dr. Patrick Boerlin, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Martina Brash, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Hugh Cai, Animal Health Laboratory
  • Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Management and Economics
  • Mr. Al Dam, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food
  • Dr. Rob Deardon, Mathematics and Statistics
  • Dr. Joshua Gong, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
  • Dr. Michele Guerin, Population Medicine
  • Dr. Mansel Griffiths, Food Science
  • Dr. Alice Hovorka, Geography
  • Dr. Robert Jacobs, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Gordon Kirby, Biomedical Science
  • Dr. Steven Leeson, Animal and Poultry Science
  • Dr. Emily Martin, Animal Health Laboratory
  • Dr. Eva Nagy, Pathobiology
  • Mr. Tim Nelson, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
  • Dr. Davor Ojkic, Animal Health Laboratory
  • Dr. John Prescott, Pathobiology
  • Mr. Keith Robbins, PIC Executive Director
  • Dr. Bruce Roberts, Canadian Poultry Research Council
  • Dr. Jan Sargeant, Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses
  • Dr. Shayan Sharif, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Durda Slavic, Animal Health Laboratory
  • Dr. Dale Smith, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Trevor Smith, Animal and Poultry Science
  • Dr. Deborah Stacey, Computer Science
  • Dr. James Squires, Animal and Poultry Science
  • Dr. Patricia Turner, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Bill Van Heyst, School of Engineering
  • Dr. Csaba Varga, OMAFRA
  • Dr. Qi Wang, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada
  • Dr. Keith Warriner, Food Science
  • Dr. Tina Widowski, Animal and Poultry Science
Published in Environment
It was 1953, sixty years ago, when Earl Habel and Milo Shantz began raising turkeys in New Hamburg, Ont. That was when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest, bread cost 16 cents a loaf and a gallon of milk was 94 cents.

By 1957 the farm had incorporated as Shantz Turkeys Ltd. In 1958, Earl Habel started his own growing business, leaving Milo, his brother Ross and their father,  Irvine, running the family operation. In 1966, Ralston Purina purchased the turkey breeding, growing and processing enterprise that by then consisted of three companies: Three Star Farms, Shantz Processing and Shantz Hatchery.

Hybrid Turkeys was a name that emerged in 1970 when the Shantz brothers bought back the breeding and growing enterprises. Ralston Purina retained the processing part of that turkey business which had been trading as Checkerboard Farms.

Ross Shantz, now 74, recalls the early days of the business, before further processing was introduced.

“Hybrid Turkeys entered into primary breeding and commercial growing of broiler type turkeys, as it was known at that time, seeing a consumer need when a local processor saw a market for year-round production of a five- to ten-pound table-ready whole bird.”

They needed to build a new turkey, but the genetics they needed for a smaller white bird with superior conformation that could be produced year-round were not available at that time.

Over the next 20 years, Hybrid Turkeys grew to be among the top three breeding companies in the world.

In 1981, Hybrid was sold to Euribrid, but the familiar Hybrid name continued. By the late 1980s Hybrid had become a major global player in turkey genetics with farms in Brazil and Hungary. Ross Shantz remained as president until 1986 and served on the board of directors until 1991.

Milo Shantz reached out beyond the turkey industry to actively promote the business community in St. Jacobs, Ont. He was recognized by Wilfrid Laurier University with an honorary doctorate of laws before he passed away in 2009.

In 2007 Hendrix Genetics acquired the animal breeding division of Euribrid, from Nutreco BV, including its related Animal Breeding Research Centre. Today the turkey breeding division is formally known as Hybrid Turkeys, A Hendrix Genetics Company. To most people though, it’s still just Hybrid Turkeys.

In an address to employees at a 60th anniversary celebration held in June 2013, Dave Libertini, managing director of Hybrid Turkeys, predicted that the company’s future will be similar to the past, and will involve following the same strategy of listening to its customers and the market.

“As a survivor and with 60 years of wisdom, we also intend to look for new ways to deliver what the market wants and we will also look to influence the turkey sector so that it can grow and we can all prosper. The turkey business needs leaders and we think we can offer leadership.”

Ross Shantz also believes the secret of the success of Hybrid Turkeys over the last 60 years was listening to consumer market trends, as well as the needs of the company’s direct customers. He gratefully acknowledges the dedicated employees and consulting people they had worked with over the years.

“It is very humbling to see how an idea 60 years ago has turned into a major contributor to the poultry industry in the 21st century,” says Shantz. “Thanks, Hendrix Genetics and Hybrid employees for keeping the dream alive.”
Published in Genetics
Research activities under the first Canadian Poultry Science Cluster officially ended March 31, 2013. Below is a quick overview of the scope of the Cluster project with highlights of its outcomes. For more details, search for “Cluster” on our website,, or please feel free to contact us directly.

The term “cluster” is used to describe an approach to science that encourages researchers to work together to reach common goals. Specifically, the Poultry Science Cluster was formed to address a number of research goals identified by the industry and the research within that spanned the “innovation continuum” from basic discovery to practical application. It encompassed 10 core activities involving 21 principal scientists at seven university and government research institutions across the country.

This research contributed to training and professional development of over 40 students, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists. Technical information resulting from this research has been shared with the research community through peer-reviewed publications and scientific meetings, and practical information has been shared with industry stakeholders. A number of patent applications and invention disclosures are a direct result of activities within the Cluster.

Here are a few highlights of the results from this work:
  • A new understanding of the biology of C. perfringens, a bacterium associated with necrotic enteritis (NE) in poultry. In order to cause NE, a C. perfringens, strain must have a specific genetic makeup that includes certain genes in its chromosomes and others found on plasmids that can be passed from one bacterium to another. Strains of C. perfringens that have acquired the right set of genes have a competitive advantage in the gut and, when conditions are right, are primed to cause disease.
  • Progress towards an improved vaccine against Salmonella enteritidis, the design and delivery of which is hoped to simultaneously reduce colonization in the gut of laying hens and prevent spreading infection throughout a flock and potentially on to consumers.
  • Demonstration that plant-based essential oils can be used to fight bacterial infections in poultry. Research has shown that encapsulated oils were able to protect birds from NE just as well as dietary antibiotics.
  • A new understanding of how avian influenza (AI) virus adapts to and causes disease in modern poultry, including identification of a genetic determinant that “switches” AI virus from low to high pathogenicity.
  • Demonstration that airborne transmission could play a role in the spread of AI infection, and that only a very small amount of virus is needed to transmit the disease by indirect contact.
  • New information on the bird’s immune reaction to AI infection.
  • A prototype virosome-based vaccine that elicits broad immune responses thought to be necessary for adequate protection from AI infection.
  • Demonstration that specific compounds (adjuvants) can be combined with the virosome vaccine to further improve immune responses.
  • Development of a vaccine vector system (based on a virulent fowl adenovirus) that can be engineered to carry genes coding for specific antigens, and demonstration that it can be used elicit appropriate immune responses upon in ovo (in the egg) injection.
  • Progress towards development of a turkey adenovirus-based vector system.
  • Development of a DNA-based vaccine that, using a specific administration route, can protect poultry from a highly pathogenic AI virus.
  • Demonstration that inclusion of a vitamin D precursor (HyD) in turkey diets, particularly early in life, has beneficial effects on meat yield and early immune function. The study suggests that industry-recommended HyD levels can be reduced by as much as 50 per cent after six weeks of age without loss of benefit, thereby reducing production costs.
  • Confirmation that diets containing fibre supplements and/or appetite suppressants may be a viable solution to prevent chronic hunger in feed-restricted broiler breeders.
  • Demonstration that toe trimming represents a potential welfare improvement for female turkeys, but the practice may not be beneficial for males.

While the Cluster is officially complete, research projects related to many of its initiatives are ongoing and moving to “next steps.” We’ll keep you posted on future progress.

For more details on these or any other CPRC activities, please contact The Canadian Poultry Research Council, 350 Sparks Street, Suite 1007, Ottawa, Ont., 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
Published in Environment
Photo by Rachel Nuwer.

Aug. 19, 2013 - Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have identified a rapid response which could help halt infectious diseases such as bird flu, swine flu and SARS before they take hold.

Focusing on the avian flu virus strain H5N1, research published in the journal PLOS ONE identifies key stages in the poultry trade chain which lead to its transmission to other birds, animals and humans.

High risk times for the disease to spread include during transportation, slaughter, preparation and consumption. It is hoped that the findings and recommendations will help stop the spread of other infectious diseases.

The H5N1 avian flu strain has been responsible for the deaths of millions of poultry, as well as 375 confirmed human deaths. Areas of Southeast Asia have been hardest hit with more than 2,500 reported outbreaks among domestic poultry in Vietnam alone. The disease has also spread rapidly from Southeast Asia into Europe. However the way that the virus transmits from poultry to humans has been poorly understood.

The UEA research team adopted a system widely used in the food production industry, known as Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP), and investigated whether it could be used as a rapid response to emerging outbreaks.

They investigated Vietnam’s poultry trade system and identified four key stages within the poultry trade chain which pose high risks for the transmission of HPAI viruses in human and poultry populations:
  • Contact within poultry flocks which act as viral ‘mixing pots’. Examples include at markets which act as huge reservoirs for the virus, at bird vaccination centres, and at cock fighting contests.
  • Transportation and sale of poultry and eggs.
  • Purchase and slaughter of poultry from markets.
  • Preparation of poultry for consumption – particularly in unhygienic conditions and when meat is raw or undercooked.
Preventative measures outlined in the report include isolating and quarantining flocks, using protective equipment such as masks, gloves and sterile utensils when slaughtering and preparing carcases for consumption, and using social media to promote good hygiene standards.

The research was led by Dr Diana Bell and Dr Kelly Edmunds from UEA’s school of Biological Sciences.

Dr Bell said: “Since 1980 an average of one new infectious disease emerges in humans every eight months – representing a substantial global threat to human health.

“Diseases which originate in birds and mammals such as SARS and bird flu represent 60 per cent of outbreaks. As well as representing a significant global health threat, they also create a burden to public health systems and the global economy.

“We identified poultry transportation, slaughter, preparation and consumption as critical control points in response to HPAI H5N1 outbreaks in Vietnam.”

Dr Edmunds added: “We also showed that adopting the Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) system, which is already used in the food production industry, could work very effectively as a precursor to more time-consuming quantitative data collection and biomedical testing.”

The research was conducted as part of a three year interdisciplinary study of the impact of H5N1 on mechanisms of transmission, local livelihoods and food security. It was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

‘Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points Assessment as a Tool to Respond to Emerging Infectious Disease Outbreaks’ by Kelly L. Edmunds, Paul R. Hunter, Roger Few and Diana J.Bell, was published in the journal PLOS ONE on August 14, 2013.
Published in Environment
Aug. 15, 2013 - Registration for the 38th annual Poultry Service Industry Workshop (PSIW), which will take place from October 1 - 3, 2013, is now open.

Until September 9, 2013, special early bird registration rates are available. For the complete list, see below.

Registration Type  Early Bird Rate (Until Sept. 9)       Regular Rate (After Sept. 9)
Registration Package $425 $475
Discounted Sponsor Registration $350 $400
Student Registration Package $200 $250
Banquet tickets $50 $60
Guest Meal Package $200 $250

To register for the PSIW, please click here. For the complete program, as well as nomination forms for the Poultry Service Industry Award and sponsorship opportunities, please visit
Published in New Technology
Photo courtesy of James Gathany.

Aug. 14, 2013 - A serology study in a Chinese province hit hardest by novel H7N9 influenza found evidence of asymptomatic or mild infections in poultry workers, further strengthening suspicions that poultry are the source of the outbreak.

The study focused on members of the general public, poultry workers, and patients with lab-confirmed H7N9 infections in Zhejiang province, which has recorded 45 cases during the outbreak thus far. The Chinese researchers published their findings in the Aug 9 early online edition of the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The full article can be purchased here.

They collected and analyzed serum samples, along with epidemiologic data, from 1,129 people from three Zhejiang cities in the province that had human H7N9 cases. The group also collected serum samples and nasal swabs from 396 people who had occupational exposure to poultry in districts where human cases had been found.

Among poultry workers, 6.3% had antibodies against the new H7N9 virus, based on hemagglutinin inhibition (HI) assay titers of 80 or greater. In contrast, the investigators found no evidence of antibodies in the general population.

No viral evidence was found in the workers' nasal swab samples.

The results weren't surprising, because a study more than a decade ago in poultry workers showed a similar seroprevalence to avian H7 subtypes, according to the report.

"Our data support the conclusion that H7N9 virus or a closely related virus is circulating in live poultry markets and that infected poultry is the principal sources for human infections," they wrote.

Serum findings in poultry workers also hint that subclinical infections occur. However, the researchers noted that an earlier study using blood samples collected from poultry workers in four provinces found no evidence of H7N9 exposure, suggesting that the workers in Zhejiang only recently developed the antibodies against the virus.

The team said it's possible that the H7N9 antibodies they detected in the poultry workers might reflect exposure to other similar H7 avian influenza viruses, including an H7N3 virus that affected ducks in the regions.

The lack of findings in the general population could signify that cross-species transmissions are recent and sporadic events, and the ability of H7N9 to spread between humans is so far limited, the team concluded.

China reports another H7N9 death

Meanwhile, a 61-year-old patient recently announced as Hebei province's first case died today, raising the number of deaths from the disease to 44, according to Xinhua, China's state news agency. The patient's illness was first announced in the middle of July.

Though the number of infections have tailed off in China, the country continues to report sporadic cases, the latest one a 51-year-old poultry worker from Guangdong province whose suspected infection was first reported on Aug 9.

China's National Health and Family Planning Commission has confirmed the woman's infection, according to a statement yesterday from the World Health Organization (WHO). Her illness raises the outbreak's total to 135 cases.

The woman got sick on Jul 27 and was hospitalized the following day. She is in critical condition.

So far there is no sign of sustained human-to-human transmission, the WHO said. At this point four patients sickened in the outbreak are still hospitalized, and 87 have been discharged, the agency added.
Published in Health
Aug. 9, 2013 - The first scientific analysis of probable human-to-human transmission of a deadly new strain of bird flu that emerged in China this year gives the strongest evidence yet that the H7N9 virus can pass between people, scientists said.

Research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) analyzing a family cluster of cases of H7N9 infection in eastern China found it was very likely the virus "transmitted directly from the index patient (a 60-year-old man) to his daughter."

Experts commenting on the research said while it did not necessarily mean H7N9 is any closer to becoming the next flu pandemic, "it does provide a timely reminder of the need to remain extremely vigilant."

"The threat posed by H7N9 has by no means passed," James Rudge and Richard Coker of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said in a commentary in the same journal.

The scientists who led the study stressed, however, that the virus has not yet gained the ability to transmit from person to person efficiently - meaning the risk is very low that it could cause a human pandemic in its current form.

The new bird flu virus, which was unknown in humans until February, has so far infected at least 133 people in China and Taiwan, killing 43 of them, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) data.

Most cases have been in people who had visited live poultry markets or had close contact with live poultry in seven to 10 days before falling ill.

The BMJ study, lead by Chang-jun Bao at the Jiangsu Province Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, analyzed a family cluster of two H7N9 patients -- a father and daughter -- in eastern China in March 2013.

Strong suggestion

The first "index" patient, a 60-year-old man, regularly went to a live poultry market and fell ill five to six days after his last exposure to poultry.

He was admitted to hospital on March 11. When his symptoms became worse, he was transferred to an intensive care unit (ICU) on March 15 but died of multi-organ failure May 4, the study reported.

The second patient, his healthy 32-year-old daughter, had no known exposure to live poultry but provided direct bedside care for her father in the hospital before he went to intensive care.

She developed symptoms six days after her last contact with her father and went into hospital on March 24. She was moved to the ICU on March 28 and died of multi-organ failure on April 24.

Strains of the virus isolated from samples taken from each patient were "almost genetically identical" -- a strong suggestion that the virus was transmitted directly from father to daughter, the researchers said.

"To our best knowledge, this is the first report of probable transmissibility of the novel virus person-to-person with detailed epidemiological, clinical and virological data," they wrote.

Peter Horby of the Oxford University clinical research unit in Hanoi, Vietnam, who was not involved in this research, said the study raised the level of concern about H7N9 and reinforced the need for intensive surveillance.
Published in Turkeys
Electron micrograph photo of Avian Influenza A (H7N9). Photo courtesy of the CDC.

Aug. 7, 2013 - The first report of probable person to person transmission of the new avian influenza A (H7N9) virus in Eastern China has been published on The findings provide the strongest evidence yet of H7N9 transmission between humans, but the authors stress that its ability to transmit itself is "limited and non-sustainable."

The Avian influenza A (H7N9) virus was recently identified in Eastern China, and as of June 30, 2013, 133 cases have been reported, resulting in 43 deaths.

Most cases appear to have visited live poultry markets or had close contact with live poultry seven to 10 days before illness onset. Currently no definite evidence indicates sustained human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 virus, but the study reports a family cluster of two patients (father and daughter) with H7N9 virus infection in Eastern China in March 2013.

The first (index) patient – a 60 year old man – regularly visited a live poultry market and became ill five to six days after his last exposure to poultry. He was admitted to hospital on March 11.

When his symptoms became worse, he was transferred to the hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) on March 15. He was transferred to another ICU on March 18 and died of multi-organ failure on May 4th.

The second patient, his healthy 32 year old daughter, had no known exposure to live poultry before becoming sick. However, she provided direct and unprotected bedside care for her father in the hospital before his admission to intensive care.

She developed symptoms six days after her last contact with her father and was admitted to hospital on March 24. She was transferred to the ICU on March 28 and died of multi-organ failure on April 24.

Two almost genetically identical virus strains were isolated from each patient, suggesting transmission from father to daughter.

Forty-three close contacts of both cases were interviewed by public health officials and tested for influenza virus. Of these, one (a son in law who helped care for the father) had mild illness, but all contacts tested negative for H7N9 infection.

Environmental samples from poultry cages, water at two local poultry markets, and swans from the residential area, were also tested. One strain was isolated but was genetically different to the two strains isolated from the patients.

The researchers acknowledge some study limitations, but say that the most likely explanation for this family cluster of two cases with H7N9 infection is that the virus "transmitted directly from the index patient to his daughter." But they stress that "the virus has not gained the ability to transmit itself sustained from person to person efficiently."

They believe that the most likely source of infection for the index case was the live poultry market, and conclude: "To our best knowledge, this is the first report of probable transmissibility of the novel virus person to person with detailed epidemiological, clinical, and virological data. Our findings reinforce that the novel virus possesses the potential for pandemic spread."

So does this imply that H7N9 has come one step closer towards adapting fully to humans, ask James Rudge and Richard Coker from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, based in Bangkok, in an accompanying editorial?

Probably not, they say. Limited transmission between humans "is not surprising, and does not necessarily indicate that the virus is on course to develop sustained transmission among humans."

Nevertheless, they point to several traits of H7N9 are of particular concern, and conclude that, while this study might not suggest that H7N9 is any closer to delivering the next pandemic, "it does provide a timely reminder of the need to remain extremely vigilant: the threat posed by H7N9 has by no means passed."

The authors also summarise their findings in a video abstract. Dr Zhou says that the reason for carrying out this study was because there was "no definite evidence to show that the novel virus can transmit person-to-person," plus she and her co-authors wanted to find out whether the novel avian influenza virus possesses the capability to transmit person-to-person. She concludes that "the infection of the daughter is likely to have resulted from her father during unprotected exposure" and suggest that the virus possesses the ability to transmit person-to-person in this cluster. She does add however that the infection was "limited and non-sustainable as there is no outbreak following the two cases."

For more information on the research, please see the video abstract provided by

Published in Health
Photo courtesy of Chicken Farmers of Canada.

Jul. 30, 2013 - As in many other jurisdictions, Canadian governments, both federal and provincial, played a part in poultry breeding in the past 100 years. In Canada, the federal government had a very strong research program in poultry genetics from the 1950s until the 1990s. In addition, several universities – notably Guelph and Saskatchewan – had significant programs of genetics research and teaching that helped the industry develop.

The Canada Department of Agriculture (as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada was then known) established a Record of Performance (ROP) system that enabled breeders to have independently audited records of progeny tested cocks, whose progeny would sustain increased prices for hatching eggs and chicks. In addition, laying tests were established in most provinces to test small groups of hens submitted at point of lay, to independent testing stations. However, by the middle of the last century, it became obvious that the results of these tests depended at least as much on the skill of the breeder in growing and selecting the birds as on their breeding value or genetic potential. In addition, sample sizes were quite small.

The Random Sample Test became the accepted method of comparing stocks from different breeders. The tests consisted of obtaining samples of hatching eggs from the breeders to hatch at least 100 pullets (in some cases more), which were grown under standard conditions. They were housed in standard cages, with a randomly distributed, replicated pattern, and the identity of each group was unknown to those looking after the birds. The last surviving Canadian Random Sample Test, in Ottawa, was shut down in 1990.

Basic studies in poultry genetics were a large part of the federal government's wide-ranging research program. The outcome was of interest not only to commercial poultry breeders, but also to breeders of other farm animals. Dr. Robb Gowe established the major poultry genetics program in the early 1960s, and although mainly based in Ottawa, the program (in its early stages) had replicates of the selected populations in several federal stations across the country. The primary goal of the program was to investigate broad-based populations (derived from commercial White Leghorn hybrids) for commercially important traits like egg numbers, egg weight, egg quality, liveability, etc. A unique aspect of the research was that unselected control populations were maintained so as to separate the effects of genetic selection from those of uncontrolled changes in the environment. Although these selected lines eventually became highly productive, they were, as far as is known, never used in a commercial environment.

Another federal government program specifically designed to provide stock to commercial breeders, operated for a few years in the 1960-70s under the guidance of Sterling Munroe. According to Donald Shaver, this was instituted to provide a Canadian alternative to his "monopoly" on the supply of parent stock! Fisher Poultry Farms, in Ontario, used the stock for a few years.

Poultry Health Programs

Provincial governments at the time were primarily involved in developing poultry health control measures. The diseases of concern were those unwittingly passed from parents to commercial offspring.

In the early days of the rise of commercial hatcheries, Pullorum disease (also known as bacillary white diarrhoea, caused by the bacterium Salmonella pullorum) was a constant threat. The disease was characterized by adult carriers, which showed no symptoms, passing the bacteria through the hatching eggs to baby chicks, which suffered very high mortality. Fortunately, a rapid blood test was developed that could detect the carriers. Most provincial governments provided testing services for parent flocks, and any carriers were removed from the breeding flocks. As a result, Pullorum disease is rarely seen today.

Individual breeders in the latter part of the 100-year period also eradicated, by various means, other Salmonella species, and several strains of Mycoplasma. These actions were mainly voluntary, although some assistance from governments was available.

As a result of these programs, breeders being shipped today are guaranteed to be free of Salmonella pullorum, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, and a variety of other pathogens specific to individual breeders and poultry types.
Published in Genetics
I tip my hat to the Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO) and the Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC). If this were baseball, I’d say, “Team Eggs” just smacked two fastballs out of the park.

The first off the bat was for EFO, committing $1 million toward developing the antidepressant drug, Rellidep™, named after Ron Ellis, who was a star player with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Team Canada in 1972. The research is being done by United Paragon Associates Inc., a privately owned, Ontario-based company.

If this exciting project is successful, the impact could be felt around the world, much like another great Canadian medical discovery – insulin. Lianne Appleby wrote an excellent story about Rellidep in the June edition of Canadian Poultry and if you haven’t read it, you really should.

Ron Ellis played for the Leafs from 1963 to 1981. I was such a huge fan of Ellis, I wrote him a letter when the Leafs let him go. He responded with a handwritten note thanking me for my comments. He is a class act and I was shocked when I later found out he had been suffering from serious depression for many years.

Like thousands of other Canadians, Ellis had managed to hide his depression. To his credit, he later decided to use his fame, name and personal story to raise public awareness about this debilitating and often life-threatening medical condition. Today, he is a leader and the face of Rellidep.

Ontario’s egg farmers deserve a standing ovation for stepping up to the plate to help champion this important medical research. I wish the Rellidep project and Ron Ellis all the success in the world.

As for Team Eggs’ second home run, anyone who reads Canadian Poultry magazine knows that despite relentless media attacks, supply management has the support of the federal government, all provincial governments and the vast majority of individual MPs and MPPs – but what about municipal governments? Why not find out what those people think, too?

Well, that is exactly what Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) did.

The EFC recently commissioned Ipsos Reid to conduct a survey called “Canada’s Mayors and Reeves on Supply Management.” The survey included 124 intensive interviews with mayors, deputy mayors and reeves across Canada. It included many of Canada’s largest cities – meaning that the survey wasn’t limited to rural areas. The jurisdictions included represent 25 per cent of Canada’s population, and there were interesting results.

For example, there was an overwhelming understanding of the need to keep local dairy and poultry farms healthy, realizing the important role farming plays in the local economy. Almost 90 per cent of those surveyed support supply management, with 40 per cent being very supportive. Eighty per cent agreed that supply management is important to the survival of farmers and communities, with almost 50 per cent agreeing strongly.

The survey also revealed that 74 per cent of those surveyed agreed there is no guarantee that getting rid of supply management would lower dairy, egg and poultry prices for consumers. And that result alone was worth the price of admission.

EFC has concluded there is an opportunity for farmers and stakeholders to expand education efforts to dispel myths and falsehoods in an effort to increase further dialogue at the local (municipal) level.

I couldn’t agree more, because nobody is closer to local issues than elected municipal representatives. I think EFC’s decision to commission this survey was brilliant and the timing was perfect. Despite the hundreds of anti-supply management articles and columns that have been published in major daily newspapers or posted online, and the heavy criticism we have all heard and seen on radio and TV, it is important to remember that supply management is not an issue for most Canadians.

In fact, many people (of those who are even aware of it) support supply management. The Ipsos Reid survey has reminded us of that.

The Mayors and Reeves survey and Rellidep are both home runs in my book. Well done, Team Eggs.
Published in Health
Page 10 of 18

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