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

Jun. 28, 2013, Ottawa, ON - Genome Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions have partnered to support a $1.4 million project that will help protect consumers from Listeriosis, a serious foodborne illness caused by Listeria bacteria.

The project, led by Dr. Linda Chui of the University of Alberta, will sequence and map the genomes of different Listeria strains to identify those that are likely to be most harmful to human health, as well as those most likely to survive in food processing facilities.

Through this research, a database of Listeria genome sequences will be developed and genetic markers identified. These markers will be used to rapidly spot harmful Listeria strains in foods and food processing facilities.

"Genomics research such as this is equipping us with new, effective ways to combat threats to food safety. The impact this research will have on averting potential outbreaks and the consequences for Canadian families and industry is tremendous," said Pierre Meulien, President and CEO of Genome Canada.

"Ensuring the safety of food products is critical to public health and the competitiveness of our agri-food and agriculture industries," said Dr. Stan Blade, Chief Executive Officer of Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions. "New Listeria detection tests that produce results quickly will allow food producers and regulators to act swiftly and provides assurance of an even higher level of food safety for Canadians," he added.

Dr. Chui's 18-month research project is supported through an investment of $250,000 each from Genome Canada (via Genome Alberta) and the CFIA, and $100,000 from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions. This investment is also being leveraged through co-funding from federal, provincial, academic and industry partners, including Maple Leaf Foods, increasing the total investment to $1.4 million.

"The strength of our project is in the world-class expertise of the research team and the support of many distinguished organizations from across Canada," said Dr. Chui. "The different researchers on the team bring leading-edge expertise in many areas including food sample preparation, assays development, state-of-the art capacity in bioinformatics and genomics, pathogen detection and outbreak response."

For more information, please visit, and

Published in Turkeys
Jun. 19, 2013 - Cargill’s Animal Nutrition business and Purac, a subsidiary of CSM, announce their collaboration in the development and commercialization of bio-based animal feed solutions. These solutions promote stronger growth and better feed conversion in suboptimal conditions in poultry production while at the same time have the potential to significantly reduce the usage of antibiotics. A first commercial product, Aloapur, will reach the market in July of this year.Under the collaboration, Purac, world market leader in lactic acid and lactic acid derivatives, is focusing on technology development and production of Aloapur, while Cargill Animal Nutrition’s Provimi business, a leading global premix, specialties and feed additives supplier, is focused on application development and commercialization of the product.

Aloapur®, a bio based animal feed solution for the improvement of the general health of animals, has been developed and patented by Purac. Aloapur is based on Lactylates and has been developed for the first time in animal nutrition and has demonstrated to significantly improve growth and feed conversion in poultry and turkey production in particular in suboptimal conditions. The efficacy of Aloapur has been extensively tested and demonstrated in both scientific research as well as actual production farms by Purac and Cargill.

Commercial production will start in July in a newly built production facility at the Purac site in Gorinchem, the Netherlands.

Cargill brings its animal nutrition expertise and global footprint to the partnership. Cargill’s Provimi business will develop the application and offer Aloapur to customers to help them improve animal health and nutrition. Cargill Animal Nutrition is committed to selecting and developing innovative solutions that can significantly improve animal nutrition.

Marco Bootz, Vice President Chemical & Pharma at Purac, comments: "CSM is developing into a leading provider of bio-based ingredients and solutions. Our collaboration with Cargill is fully in line with our strategy to develop commercially attractive bio-based alternatives using renewable and sustainable resources. This new technology, Aloapur®, for animal health is based on our core competence in lactic acid derivatives and emulsifiers. We believe that this technology has the potential to significantly reduce the usage of low dosage antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed, without negatively impacting production. Cargill, the world leader in animal feed, will market Aloapur®, opening up a world of opportunities."

“The use of lactylates in poultry feeds is an exciting new concept in animal nutrition,” said Scott Ainslie, Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Technology at Cargill Animal Nutrition. “This technology offers a promising, innovative nutritional solution to improve broiler and turkey health and growth in suboptimal conditions; and Cargill’s Provimi business is perfectly positioned to help bring this solution to the marketplace.”
Published in Nutrition and Feed

It was 1873 when Robert Oettel, a German poultry fancier, first described “feather pulling” or “feather eating.” Today, studies in the United Kingdom indicate that 78 per cent of hens engage in severe feather pecking, with similar numbers in the European Union. Bring those numbers to Canada, where there are about 22.5 million hens, and that means the behaviour could affect up to 17.6 million Canadian birds.

The answer to why hens feather-peck has eluded researchers for 140 years. “It’s an old problem,” says Austrian veterinarian Dr. Alexandra Harlander, one of the world’s experts on feather pecking in laying hens, who has recently joined the poultry welfare faculty at the University of Guelph.

Harlander posed a question at a recent lecture in Guelph hosted by the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare: Is feather pecking redirected behaviour from food pecking, ground pecking or dust bathing? As she explains, it’s generally accepted as a multi-factorial process, involving genetics, management and nutrition.

So far, detective work has explored many facets of feather pecking, from natural behaviours to diets to digestive differences in the birds themselves. However, Harlander is convinced that feather pecking is redirected foraging behaviour, not redirected dust-bathing behaviour.

She describes foraging as having two components: seeking and consumption. It’s possible that feather pecking is part of exploration. Hens without some sort of floor substrate, such as wood shavings, will display an increase in feather pecking behaviour. Is it possible that birds may misperceive feathers as a foraging substrate?

It is known that birds don’t mind working to find food, but do they work as hard for feathered feeds?

Feather pecking is an old problem, but a very important one.

Harlander references her study where hens with high and low feather-pecking (HFP and LFP) tendencies were offered food pellets, loose feathers and fixed feathers as a food source. The results showed that both groups of birds ate the same amount, but the HFP hens preferred a higher-feather diet (see photo above).

But would HFP and LFP birds prefer feathers over shavings?

Birds were then individually presented with a bowl of wood shavings, a bowl of feathers, an empty dish and a bowl of mash. The HFP birds voted for the feathers.

This raised another question: How hard would birds work to get wood shavings or feathers? Birds were asked to peck a key or press a lever with food, wood shavings or feathers as a reward (known as operant conditioning). The HFP and LFP lines didn’t differ when food or shavings were the reward, but when feathers were rewarded, the HFP birds became highly motivated.

What is it about feathers that make them attractive? Harlander described the process of consumption as follows: we see the food, touch it, smell it, taste it and decide to either swallow it or spit it out.

But for feathers, the distinction is more difficult. Feather colour doesn’t seem to make a difference; neither does feather placement. While some flocks start in pecking in one area, others concentrate on other areas and we don’t know why – research has shown no area preference so far.

Birds have shown a preference, however, for shorter feathers, choosing two- or four-centimetre feathers over six- or eight-centimetre feathers. This shows that physical characteristics are important, says Harlander. Birds also seem to prefer the tip or middle part of the feather and avoid the calamus, the stiff part.

It is possible that chemosensory cues have an influence as well. Birds preferred washed feathers to unwashed feathers, and they loved feathers soaked in garlic but avoided bitter quinine feathers.

With the quinine feathers, both groups of birds showed a reduction in severe feather-pecking bouts, but returned to their old behaviour after three weeks.

If HFP birds are so highly motivated to feather-peck, why not mix feathers into the food? Harlander says that making feathers available in the HFP feed will substitute the specific appetite for feathers and therefore actually reduce pecking activity compared with birds provided with normal feed or birds given feed containing insoluble cellulose instead of feathers.

This further led Harlander’s team to wonder if the fibre source or concentration would make a difference. When birds were fed isocaloric (similar caloric content) feeds of similar particle size, those with five per cent chopped feathers and five per cent cellulose in the diet had the same number of severe feather-pecking bouts, while providing a diet of 10 per cent feathers reduced feather pecking significantly and improved plumage condition.

However, the mechanism by which fibre reduces feather pecking remains unknown.

Harlander hypothesizes that feathers, as non-nutritive substances, may act the same as insoluble fibre, by speeding up feed passage time. Studies have shown this to be the case, with feed passage time being fastest with high-feather diets.

The physical structure of the feathers increased the grinding activity of the gizzard, affecting peristaltic movement of the gut. Ingested feathers increased the speed of feed passage, but wood shavings did not.

In summary, both HFP and LFP birds explore at similar levels, but because the HFP birds showed a specific, strong appetite for feathers, substituting litter substrate was not effective. As well, feather ingestion increases the rate of food passage and can affect gut micro biota.

Feather pecking seems to be a multi-factorial issue that affects both organic and conventional commercial operations, resulting in mortality and loss of productivity. Group housing may actually encourage feather pecking, with birds picking up the behaviour by watching and imitating other birds.

Birds with access to an outdoor run (free-range birds with access to outside light) do not have a lower or higher level of feather pecking than birds kept inside their entire lives. Light intensity in general can influence feather pecking, but the behaviour has nothing to do with indoor or outdoor housing.

While her research at Guelph will continue to explore the feather-pecking mystery, Harlander suggests that producers experiment with genetic selection for feather-pecking propensity or spraying birds with a bitter-tasting substance if feather pecking is a problem.

Published in Welfare

Eggs, it can be said, have had their fair share of the media spotlight. There was a time when it seemed they were to be blamed, solely, for high cholesterol and, (if we really want to exaggerate), for the heart attacks of many an unsuspecting consumer. Now, as with many dietary staples, it’s generally accepted that when consumed in moderation, eggs can be part of a healthy diet.

Most readers will be thinking, “well, we knew that all along, it’s common sense”. And, like many, other examples of bad media, the only thing to do was to ride out the unwanted publicity storm.

What do you do when the reverse is true, though – when ground-breaking research shows that eggs may be the answer to one of the most crippling conditions a person can suffer? Well, if you’re Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO), you support further work on the subject and view it as a research and development investment.

Thus, on March 26, EFO announced at their annual meeting in Mississauga that they will provide $1 million to United Paragon Associates (UPA), an Ontario-based privately-held pharmaceutical developer, to fund clinical trials for a new antidepressant drug that could help millions of people, worldwide, who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).

Cleverly named Rellidep™* (after former hockey great, Ron Ellis, long-time champion in the fight against MDD, and UPA’s Vice-President of Public Relations) it would be an understatement to say that there are high-hopes for Phase 2 of clinical trials.

If any of this sounds familiar, it shouldn’t. EFO has never before supported such work. In fact, when it comes to commodity groups, Ontario’s egg board is probably the only group in Canada currently funding the development of a human health drug. And whether you eat eggs or not, depression is very likely a condition that has affected you or someone very close to you.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Website, “depression is a term used to describe a long period when a person is sad to the point of feeling worthless, hopeless and helpless. It can be caused by stress, a loss, or a major disappointment, but sometimes, it seems to happen for no particular reason at all – the result of a chemical imbalance in a person’s body.” Statistics Canada’s 2002 Mental Health and Well-being Survey showed that 5.3 per cent of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over had reported symptoms that met the criteria for MDD in the previous 12 months, including 4.8 per cent for major depression and 1 per cent for bipolar disorder.

When EFO was approached by UPA, they were told that the company had found that fertilized eggs could play a key role in alleviating depression. Given the millions of Canadians battling the disorder and the simple “good news story” that could come of it, it was a no-brainer for Ontario’s egg farmers to get behind the work.

“I got introduced to it last fall,” said EFO chair Scott Graham. “Our general manager, Harry Pelissero, had been introduced probably a year previous to that. We’ve signed a letter of intent for a million dollars that we hope is going to be a stimulus to help [UPA] raise another $7.5 million [to undertake] a second clinical trial.”

Graham is hopeful the results will be as favourable as they were in the first trial. Those findings indicated that Rellidep may be more successful in alleviating depression than other drugs currently on the market, while at the same time resulting in fewer and less disruptive side effects.

“Despite recent advances in treatment, there continues to be great unmet need specific to three key areas in the fight against major depressive disorder,” George Yeung, UPA’s president of Research and Development told the audience in Mississauga. “Early phase trials with Rellidep have demonstrated tremendous promise, as it may offer improvements over currently available drug treatments in three areas. Potentially better efficacy, shorter time-to-clinical-benefit and significantly fewer side-effects were observed.  We are hoping to see similar results in the next phases of our research.”

At a certain stage of development, Yeung explained, a specific molecule is taken from embryonic stem cells in fertilized eggs through a proprietary and patented process. It then forms the foundation of the antidepressant, Rellidep. While he agrees with Graham that early results were encouraging, he emphasized that the sample set was small.

With a mandate to explore potential uses of eggs and expand the market, this investment seemed like a great fit for EFO, although its $1 million won’t kick in until UPA raises the remaining $7.5 million to go ahead with Phase 2 of the clinical trials. EFO, according to Graham, was also keen to keep the research in Canada (specifically Ontario) by supporting UPA. Besides that, he cited the innovative nature of the research, the fact that it is not food-related and its potential economic impact as draws for EFO to infuse money into the project. Speaking to a small group of reporters after the announcement was made, Graham’s emotions were evident when he talked about the humanitarian implications of the new drug, should it reach the market.

There is, however, much work to be done before the drug gets to that point. Yeung explained that even if the money needed for Phase 2 is procured, it could be years before the drug is at the point where it can be prescribed. And likely, Rellidep would be out-licensed to a larger multinational pharmaceutical company after Phase 2, so there are still a lot of unknowns, he added. It could take longer than six years for Rellidep even to be approved for human use.

For now, the needed $7.5 million to start up the next trial phase is the most crucial factor for UPA to tackle in getting the drug to market. For Ron Ellis, though, that figure dwindles in comparison to the statistics around economic loss related to depression. In reference to published studies, he said, “the economic cost of lost productivity in Ontario due to depression, as measured by short-term and long-term disability days, is estimated to have been $8.8 billion in Ontario in 2000. Costs due to depression are estimated to have been over $2 billion in Ontario in 1998.”

Thus, for Ontario’s 440 egg producers, there is a collective holding of breath to see how this potential great news story ends. Stay tuned.

* Rellidep is a trademarked product.

About United Paragon Associates Inc. (UPA)
UPA is an Ontario-based, privately held pharmaceutical developer. For more information, contact George Yeung, UPA’s president of research and development at 416-207-1001 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Published in Health

Every summer, Canadian poultry farms experience some degree of heat stress. High temperatures (those above 30°C), combined with elevated humidity, can result in reduced feed intake and possibly heat prostration mortality.

During times of heat stress, flock performance and health may be compromised by reduced intake of vitamins and minerals. Thiamin requirements double during heat stress and there is also reduction in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E.1 This is concurrent with increased excretion of minerals such as sodium (Na+) and potassium (K+), which, in turn, negatively affects the heat dissipation capacity and acid-base balance of the bird, resulting in decreased growth performance.

Birds can get rid of excess heat in one of five ways:

  1. Conduction – Hot birds will try to cool down by touching water pipes or digging into litter to contact a cool floor. In extreme cases, the breast muscle will develop a pale, cooked appearance after the bird sits for prolonged period of time.
  2. Convection – Moving air over the birds is the most effective way to keep them cool, but if air is not moving quickly enough, heat can build up around their bodies. In severe heat situations, birds can often be found dead along walls where air does not circulate efficiently. These birds usually die from heat prostration, not from lack of oxygen.
  3. Radiation – Birds will raise their wings to allow heat to radiate from areas where feather cover is poor. Note that many leghorns survive well in cages because of poor feathering and lack of floor litter, which permits maximum radiation.
  4. Excretion – Defecation is another means by which heat is lost because birds will typically double their intake of water during periods of heat stress and thus excrete more hot urine and water in feces. It is therefore especially important to ensure your barns have an appropriate drinker ratio, clean water filters and well-adjusted pressure regulators to maximize water delivery during warm weather.
  5. Evaporative Cooling – Evaporation of water takes place on the surface of the skin and from the respiratory tract. In heat stress conditions, the bird will try to maximize heat loss by panting.

Under heat stress conditions, maintaining water and electrolyte balances are important factors affecting the survivability and productivity of the birds – especially when humidity is high.

By panting, the birds could increase their respiratory rate tenfold; this would result in excessive CO2 loss, which would alter the internal acid-base balance of the bird. By altering their own metabolism, the birds would increase the energy spent towards homeostatic regulation rather than processes supporting growth.2

Excessive water can also be lost through panting and higher urine flow, which negatively influences the birds’ capacity to dissipate heat.3 Unfortunately, ions of sodium, potassium and chloride are also lost. This is dangerous because the ions are important in maintaining the internal acid-base balance and cell membrane integrity of the bird. Some research has shown that sodium chloride and potassium chloride, when administered in the water, were able to alleviate the adverse effects of heat stress.4

Gut lining integrity, which will cause interference with the natural absorption of essential vitamins and minerals, is also compromised under heat stress conditions.

In summary, valuable vitamins and electrolytes can be lost with the rapid respiration and increase urine output caused by heat stress and must be replaced. In many cases, the few dollars spent on water medication such as Electrolytes Plus could have a significant effect upon the productivity of poultry and livestock.


  1. P.R. Ferket; M.A. Qureshi (1992). Performance and immunity of heat-stressed broilers fed vitamin- and electrolyte-supplemented drinking water. Poultry science. 71: 88-97.
  2. Mongin, P. (1981) Recent advances in dietary cation-anion balance: applications in poultry. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 40: 285-294.
  3. Belay T. and Teeter, R.G. (1993). Broiler Water Balance and Thermobalance During Thermoneutral and High Ambient Temperature Exposure. Poultry Science 72: 116-124.
  4. Smith, M.O. and Teeter, R.G. (1987). Influence of feed intake and ambient temperature stress on the relative yield of broiler parts. Nutrition Reports International, 35(2): 299-306.
Published in Environment

The Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC) recently held its Annual General Meeting during which Roelof Meijer, the Turkey Farmers of Canada (TFC) board representative, was elected chair and Helen Anne Hudson, representing Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC), was elected vice-chair. Meijer replaces Jacob Middelkamp, the former Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) representative, who was on the board for six years and served as chair for four. The CPRC board and staff wish to express their gratitude to him for his dedication and leadership. Ed O’Reilly, the CFC board representative for Newfoundland and Labrador, replaced Middelkamp on the board.

As well, the Canadian Hatching Egg Producers (CHEP) representative, Cheryl Firby, is stepping down after three years on the CPRC board. She has been a valuable voice in all board decisions and we wish her well in all her future endeavours.

New Poultry Science Cluster Application
On behalf of the Canadian poultry industry, CPRC submitted an application to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for a new five-year Poultry Science Cluster under the recently announced AgriInnovation Program (AIP), which is part of the Growing Forward 2 policy framework for Canada’s agricultural and agri-food sector. A broad range of industry organizations and companies that have come together to provide resources to support the proposed research endorse the application. If the application is successful, the new cluster will secure considerable government funding to match industry investment (significantly larger than the first three-year cluster that ended on March 31, 2013).

A “cluster” brings together multidisciplinary teams of scientists to solve complex problems and to create synergies in research efforts, in order to make the most of available resources and support a strong business case for investing in Canadian poultry research. Pooling intellectual and financial resources to address issues of common interest is a powerful way to maximize the impact of our collective investment in research.

The research proposed within the application represents consensus of needs by the poultry reflects major sector priorities and research target outcomes identified in the National Research Strategy for Canada’s Poultry Sector including economic viability, genetics, food safety, animal health products, poultry health, poultry welfare, on environment and poultry feedstuffs. The strategy was the result of in-depth consultation with producers, producer organizations, the research community (both government and university) and representatives of the poultry processing sector.

The application focuses on four themes, each encompassing several sector priorities:

  1. Poultry Infectious Diseases –Impact on poultry health and/or zoonosis.
  2. Alternative Animal Health Products and Management Strategies – Enhance avian immune function and mitigate the impact of infectious pathogens while displacing the need for traditional antimicrobials.
  3. Poultry Welfare and Well-being  – Focusing throughout the production chain, as impacted by early immune function, bird harmony within various alternate production systems, restricted feeding options of breeding stock, bird stocking density and the effects of temperature extremes during live bird transport.
  4. Environmental Stewardship – As impacted by emissions of particulate matter, ammonia and greenhouse gases and their effect on poultry, poultry workers and the industry’s environmental footprint.
The proposed cluster would provide capacity to resolve many current issues facing the poultry industry. The unique co-operation among scientists, industry partners and government departments across Canada will synergize efforts to address these issues. The scale allows for basic research and more near-term, applied studies that will provide both immediate answers and future information for the poultry and food industries, as well as factors impacting consumer well-being. We will provide updates on the application in future issues.

For More Information
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

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 Nutrition and Feed

Apr. 24, 2013 - At Experimental Biology 2013, scientists from around the world are gathering to share research on a variety of topics, including nutrition and health. Given the growing global burden of chronic disease, there is particular interest in the important role of diet and nutrition in overall health. Several studies presented at the conference looked specifically at the role of whole egg consumption in high-risk groups, including those with metabolic syndrome and heart disease, as well as the satiating effects of high-protein breakfast consumption for overweight adolescents.

Evidence to Support Eggs as Part of a Heart Healthy Diet

Research from Yale University explored the impact of daily whole egg consumption in men and women with coronary heart disease1. The subjects were randomized to consume either two eggs, ½ cup of egg substitute or a high-carbohydrate breakfast for six weeks as part of their typical diet. The subjects who ate either whole eggs or egg substitute did not experience any negative impact in total cholesterol, blood pressure, body weight or endothelial function. The researchers concluded that whole eggs can be a part of a heart healthy diet, even in those with existing coronary heart disease.

Whole Egg Consumption Promotes Favorable Lipid Changes in those with Metabolic Syndrome

Research from the University of Connecticut suggested that daily whole egg consumption may have a positive effect on the function and composition of HDL cholesterol in adults with metabolic syndrome. Subjects followed a carbohydrate-restricted diet, and consumed either three eggs per day or an equivalent amount of egg substitutes2. After 12 weeks, subjects consuming whole eggs experienced improvements in HDL (good cholesterol) composition and ability to remove cholesterol from the blood.

Those eating three whole eggs daily also had HDL that was lower in triacylglycerol and higher in a beneficial component of egg yolks (phosphatidylethanolaime)2. "Taken together with previously established benefits of egg intake on HDL profiles, these findings further support the notion that eggs serve as a functional food to reduce cardiovascular disease risk in individuals with metabolic syndrome," says Catherine Andersen, lead study author and PhD candidate at the University of Connecticut.

High Protein Breakfast Results in Decreased Daily Calorie Intake

Researchers at University of Missouri presented data comparing the effects of a normal-protein cereal breakfast (15% meal calories), high-protein egg and pork breakfast (40% meal calories) and no breakfast on satiety in overweight/obese adolescents who normally skip breakfast(3). The group that consumed the high protein egg and pork breakfast reported a decrease in hunger and an increase in fullness compared to the normal protein and breakfast-skipping group. The individuals eating a high protein breakfast also voluntarily reduced their intake by more than 400 calories per day over the 12-week study. No significant differences were seen in weight between groups; however, breakfast skippers were found to have significant increases in percent body fat mass compared to those who ate the normal and high protein breakfasts. This study supports the benefits of a high protein breakfast as a weight management strategy among overweight and obese adolescents(3).

"This year's EB program showcased cutting-edge nutrition research with wide-reaching public health implications," says Mitch Kanter, PhD, Executive Director of the Egg Nutrition Center. "Furthermore, many studies underscore a positive role for eggs in the current chronic disease challenges we face." For more information about egg nutrition research and the benefits of egg consumption, please visit

About the American Egg Board (AEB)

AEB is the U.S. egg producer's link to the consumer in communicating the value of yhe egg and is funded from a national legislative checkoff on all egg production from companies with greater than 75,000 layers, in the continental United States. The board consists of 18 members and 18 alternates from all regions of the country who are appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture. The AEB staff carries out the programs under the board direction. AEB is located in Park Ridge, Ill. Visit for more information.

About the Egg Nutrition Center (ENC)

The Egg Nutrition Center (ENC) is the health education and research center of the American Egg Board. Established in 1979, ENC provides science-based information to health promotion agencies, physicians, dietitians, nutritional scientists, media and consumers on issues related to egg nutrition and the role of eggs in the American diet. ENC is located in Park Ridge, IL. Visit or for more information.

1. Katz et al. Effects of egg ingestion on endothelial function in adults with coronary artery disease: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial. Experimental Biology 2013. Boston, MA. April 20, 2013.

2. Andersen CJ, Blesso CN, Lee J, Barona J, Shah D, Thomas MJ, Fernandez ML. Egg consumption modulates HDL lipid composition and increases the cholesterol-accepting capacity of serum in metabolic syndrome. Lipids. 2013; doi 10.1007/s11745-013-3780-8

3. Leidy HJ, Hoertel HA, Douglas SM, Shafer RS. Daily addition of a protein-rich breakfast for long-term improvements in energy intake regulation and body weight management in overweight & obese 'breakfast skipping' young people. Experimental Biology 2013. Boston, MA. April 20, 2013.

Published in Consumer
Apr. 23, 2013 - Scientists at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and The University of Manchester in England designed to tell scientific and general audiences about their research to better understand the health and anatomy of the 30 billion broiler chickens that are bred for human consumption each year.

Having gone live on last month, the team plans to keep the site updated with their latest work and encourage feedback and interaction with readers. It is also planned to make the site a resource for information and images under a creative commons licence.

Dr Jonathan Codd, senior lecturer in integrative vertebrate biology at Manchester University, said: "The idea is to use it as a vehicle to get the results and reasons behind our research out to not just the scientific community but also the general public.

"We are going to use it to provide summaries of the research being conducted, who funded the work, publications will also be provided as well as copies of conference talks, press releases and details of media exposure."

Up to 30 per cent of broiler chickens develop lameness or heart and lung problems, linked to the rapid growth rate of the chickens which has been selectively bred for.

John Hutchinson, professor of evolutionary biomechanics at RVC, said: "We haven't yet disseminated the site in an aggressive way, but feedback via social media and colleagues' comments has been good and 100% positive. It is hard to let the entire community know about the website so we're super keen to let the world know what we're doing, any way we can!

"We're excited to try to find new ways to interact with our huge and diverse target audience."
Published in Genetics

Apr. 22, 2013 - A signature sound of the farm is the rooster crowing as the sun rises to announce the start of the day. But why does the rooster crow? And how does he know when is the right time to do so?

Researchers at Nagoya University in Japan discovered that male birds do not need light cues in order to start crowing, but seem to "know" when it is the right time.

According to Dr. Takashi Yoshimura, who co-authored the study published in Current Biology, the crow itself is not a learned vocalization like human speech, but a more innate and natural sound that is controlled genetically (like a dog bark or a cat meow).

"We believe that chickens provide an excellent model for understanding this mechanism and we are now analyzing the genetic basis of rooster crowing," said Yoshimura.

During the course of their experiments, the researchers determined that crowing is not controlled by the presence of light, but by an internal mechanism. The mechanism is known as a circadian clock – a biochemical process that alternates between day and night cycles approximately every 24 hours and causes changes in behaviour, such as in sleeping and feeding patterns.

"To our surprise, nobody demonstrated the involvement of biological clock in this well-known phenomenon experimentally," added Yoshimura.

The experiment used a specific breed of rooster known as PNP, which were inbred and used in order to make all the test animals as similar as possible. Four of the animals were placed together, since roosters do not crow in isolation, in a light and sound-tight room and recorded experiencing 12 hours each of light and dim light conditions. The results showed that the animals did not crow as light broke, but a few hours earlier.

"The roosters usually crowed 2 or 3 hours before the sunrise (when it is still dark) under normal 24-hour cycle. We call this "anticipatory predawn crowing,"" he said.

In a secondary experiment, the researchers kept the roosters under 24 hours of dim light, and discovered that the animals internally adjusted their internal clocks to a slightly shorter day, approximately 23.8 hours. This caused what Yoshimura called "free-running rhythm of crowing" – the roosters crowed when they thought it was dawn, approximately 10-15 minutes earlier every day under dim light conditions.

The next step in Yoshimura's research is to identify the specific genes regulating rooster crowing, which is traditionally viewed as a warning signal advertising the males territory, as well as helps to determine social ranking.

Added Yoshimura, "Interestingly, our preliminary data suggest that the highest-ranked rooster has priority in breaking the dawn, and lower-ranked roosters are patient enough to wait and follow the highest-ranked rooster each morning."

Published in Genetics
Apr. 15, 2013 - Adopt a heritage chicken and get some fresh eggs!

In an effort to preserve five heritage chicken breeds, the University of Alberta’s Poultry Research Centre is selling farm fresh eggs from the five breeds to the general public.

For a fee of $75, consumers can adopt a heritage chicken and in turn, pick up a dozen farm fresh eggs every other week from the Poultry Research Centre on the university’s South Campus.

The free run chickens are raised using strict bio-security farming practices and fed an all-natural diet.

“The benefits of the natural environment in which we raise our chickens are passed on to the eggs, which are of high quality and very nutritious,” said Agnes Kulinski, business director of the Poultry Research Centre.

The program begins March 28 and will run for five months. A second, bigger program is expected to start later this year.

It’s important to preserve the genetic material of the heritage breeds as they are the basis for today’s commercial poultry. Poultry experts have expressed concerned that these antique birds should be conserved in case they are required in the future. The breeds are Light Sussex, White Leghorn, Dark Brown Leghorn, Barred Plymouth Rock and New Hampshire.

To register or for more information, please contact Agnes Kulinski by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Published in Genetics

Interest in poultry is alive and well among students at the University of Guelph, whose Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) and Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) Poultry Clubs have both worked with the Poultry Industry Council (PIC) on projects since 2009. “These projects help the students develop links with industry, and in some cases earn credits toward their degrees,” says former PIC executive director Tim Nelson. “Industry, in turn, benefits from the new ideas that the students work on.”

For the 2013 school year, the clubs will have extra money for a joint project, thanks to the legacy of the late Bruce Hunter, OVC Professor Emeritus, who, sadly, passed away in 2011. Hunter was an avian disease expert who had a long-standing relationship with the poultry industry, and was working on biosecurity research for small flocks in a joint project with PIC and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). The PIC decided to make some of what remained of Hunter’s research grant ($3,500) available to the two clubs for a project that would both honour and respect Hunter’s memory.

Recent OAC Projects

The OAC Poultry Club is made up of students who share an interest in poultry, whether enrolled in an agriculture-related program or not. The club is responsible for data collection, artificial insemination and genetic selection of the Shaver Heritage hens at the University of Guelph’s Arkell Research Station. They also tour poultry facilities such as hatcheries, research farms and grading stations, as well as hold events featuring guest speakers.

During the 2011 school year, the OAC club created an educational DVD to promote proper on-farm biosecurity measures in collaboration with PIC and OMAFRA.

“We placed an emphasis on pathogen transmission and prevention,” says club president, Jacob Pelissero. “Following completion, we did a formal presentation to industry at the PIC Poultry Innovations Conference in 2011.”

During the following school year, the club worked with the PIC on a Turkey Careers Project, an online pamphlet designed to educate students on job opportunities in the turkey industry. Members also started working with PIC to create a safety awareness campaign called 1000 Ways to Die on a Farm.

“It will contrast potentially dangerous farming procedures with the proper safety precautions and procedures,” Pelissero explains. “In a nutshell, we will produce a DVD and an interactive website that will also have a smartphone version.”

The students are helping to generate the idea story-boards and interview questions for veterinarians, producers and industry technicians, as well as provide some information that will be presented on the website. Some students may also help with the filming of the DVD in the spring/summer. The proposed completion date for the project is November 2013.

“As a part of a class and on our own time, we have a weekly meeting to brainstorm ideas and discuss plans for the video,” Pelissero says. “We’ll present a slide show of ideas to a focus group of industry and the project committee members in the spring. The focus group will also be able to provide us with feedback and input on the ideas.”

Many students are also working with OAC club vice-president and graduate student, Kayla Price, on a coccidiosis project.

“It will educate producers about methods of control and biosecurity measures that can help manage coccidiosis in various production and housing systems,” explains Pelissero. “The initial brainstorming on this project will be performed by undergraduate, graduate and veterinary students as well as other industry members. We intend to make this project as informed and end-user centred as we can.”

The project topic for this year, which will be shared between the OAC and OVC Clubs using the new funding, has not yet been decided. It could be focused, Pelissero says, on biosecurity research/education, genetic research and improvements, or new technologies and animal welfare.

Beyond the University of Guelph in Ontario, the Production Animal Club at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine recently held a poultry-related lab.

“Province of Saskatchewan Poultry Extension people brought in some daily mortalities so that students were able to perform necropsies and determine causes of death,” says Club spokesperson and vet student Tara Zachar. “It allowed students that have had no experience with poultry to get used to the differences in anatomy from that of mammalian species, and also allowed for more hands-on necropsy experience.”

Zachar is also in the midst of planning tours of a local hatchery and processing plant to try to further broaden the industry knowledge base of vet students. However, neither the University of Calgary’s Association of Veterinary Students’ Production Animal Health Club nor the University of Prince Edward Island vet school’s clubs currently have any activities related to poultry in the works.

For More Information

  • Educational DVD on farm biosecurity measures:
  • Turkey Career Project:
Published in Turkeys

The February 2011 issue of the CPRC update introduced a new avian influenza (AI) research program, initiated as part of the Poultry Science Cluster.* Since that time, scientists from across the country have been working collaboratively to answer the following questions about AI:

How does AI virus adapt?

Certain subtypes of AI virus have moved beyond their natural reservoir of wild birds and have developed the ability to infect domestic poultry, sometimes with devastating results. To better understand the biological basis for this adaptation, Dr. Yohannes Berhane and his team at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are using modern molecular biology techniques to, in essence, tear apart and reassemble the viral genomes in different configurations in order to mimic mutations observed in the field. Many so-called “re-assortment” AI viruses have been developed and characterized. These studies are revealing how the virus induces immune responses and causes disease in chickens.

How is it transmitted?

Avian influenza viruses are mainly transmitted by direct bird-to-bird contact and by contact with virus-contaminated materials; however, indirect contact or airborne transmission has been implicated in a number of AI outbreaks. By studying aerosolized viruses in carefully controlled experiments in the lab, as well as under commercial conditions, Dr. Jiewen Guan’s lab, also at CFIA, has confirmed that infectious viruses can be transmitted to chickens from the air and from other chickens through indirect contact. The amount of virus required to cause infection through indirect contact is surprisingly small. The results of this research have important implications for how AI is spread.

How does the chicken react?

Dr. Shayan Sharif at the University of Guelph is the lead on research that continues to produce new information on chicken immune responses to AI virus infection and to a commercial vaccine (not approved for use in Canada). Dr. Sharif’s team has identified components of the virus that elicit the greatest immune responses and may, therefore, be suitable components to include in vaccines. A number of molecules that act as adjuvants (immune system boosters) have also been identified that could improve the efficacy of these vaccines.

Is vaccination a viable  strategy?

One of the main goals of the overall research program is to develop a rational strategy to control AI infection in commercial poultry. Such a strategy may include vaccination. Dr. Éva Nagy and her team at the University of Guelph have developed a vaccine system, based on fowl adenovirus (FAdV), that can deliver AI virus antigens to the bird, and that can be administered via injection in the egg pre-hatch, or given orally in feed or water. Dr. Sharif’s group developed a different type of vaccine, based on what is known as a virosome, which can elicit protective immune responses against AI virus.

Dr. Dele Ogunremi and his team of researchers at CFIA have been working with Drs. Nagy and Sharif to assess various administration routes for candidate vaccine systems. The plan is to build upon the foundation laid by this research and to develop a strategy that combines virosome and FAdV-based vaccines. These two vaccines should complement and synergize each other, leading to enhanced protection against infection.

Furthermore, several adjuvants will be screened for their ability to further enhance vaccine efficacy. Candidate vaccine formulations will be tested against a range of low pathogenicity or highly pathogenic AI viruses using various routes of administration to determine which is most protective and practically feasible for the purpose of mass vaccination. It is expected that this research will lead to the creation of vaccine formulations that can mitigate the negative health effects of AI and control spread of the virus from vaccinated and infected birds.

*This research is part of the 2010-13 Poultry Science Cluster, which is supported by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as part of Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. CPRC and a number of industry and government organizations also provided funding for this work.

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

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