Jul. 23, 2012, College Station, TX - The National Association for the Advancement of Animal Science is focused on improving funding for animal agricultural research.

According to an article in AgriLife Today, the association is composed of university department heads from across the U.S. from the animal, dairy and poultry science departments. The new association will work with other groups to advocate for increased funding for animal sciences.

“Federal funding for research, education and extension in the animal sciences has remained stagnant over the last 30 years," said Dr. Russell Cross, president of the association and head of the animal science department at Texas A&M University.

For more information on the association and its goals, see the complete article on AgriLife Today.


Published in Researchers

Jul. 20, 2012 - The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) today posted a new issue of Healthy Animals. This quarterly online newsletter compiles ARS news and expert resources on the health and well-being of agricultural livestock, poultry and fish.

Each quarter, one article in Healthy Animals focuses on a particular element of ARS animal research. The current issue takes a look at some of the alternatives to antibiotics that scientists are using to enhance animal health and production.

Other research highlighted in this issue includes:

  • Details about a new vaccine that reduces mortality and severity of Newcastle disease symptoms in poultry.
  • Progress being made to develop vaccines that protect cattle against anaplasmosis.

Professionals interested in animal health issues might want to bookmark the site as a resource for locating animal health experts. An index lists ARS research locations covering 70 animal health topics. These range from specific diseases, such as Lyme disease, to broad subjects such as nutrition or parasites.

The site also provides complete contact information for the 25 ARS research groups that conduct studies aimed at protecting and improving farm animal health.

For more information, see the entire article posted here.

ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Published in Barn Management

Jul. 18, 2012, Burford, ON - A crowd of 800 employees, retired employees, dealer owners and operators, suppliers, farmers and dignitaries from five countries and three continents came together to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Shur-Gain on July 11 at Nutreco Canada's research farm in Burford.

Shur-Gain was founded in 1937 as part of Canada Packers Ltd and is the largest and one of the oldest suppliers of livestock and poultry feed to Canadian farmers. Today, it is an integral part of Nutreco Canada Inc., Canada's leading animal nutrition company.

Greeting attendees from across Canada, the United States, Europe and South America, Jerry Vergeer, Chief Operating Officer of Animal Nutrition for Nutreco, described the anniversary as a "milestone event". He added that the research farm was the logical place to host the celebration given that it is the largest corporately-owned facility of its kind in Canada. Said Vergeer, "Research and innovation has been the foundation of Shur-Gain for its 75 year history."

The farm is certified by both the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and along with the company's seven other research centres, houses the company's global research program.

Guests toured through the farm's dairy, swine, laying hen and broiler chicken research barns throughout the afternoon, hearing from many of the company's leading researchers. Kevin Weppler, Vice President, Central and West Regions, said that the research farm epitomizes the commitment of Shur-Gain to quality feed products. "Nothing goes out to our customers until it's been tested here and proven that it works. That gives us total confidence in saying that if it works here, it will work for you."

Wout Dekker, Chief Executive Officer for Nutreco, told the audience that Nutreco's name was formed from the words "Nutrition, Economy and Ecology" and said that Shur-Gain's focus in all three of these areas will play a critical role in helping to feed a growing world population. Said Dekker, "I'm an optimist and I'm convinced we can feed nine billion people. Canada will play an instrumental role in that." Dekker challenged guests to continue to "work on making our industry more sustainable", explaining that Canada has far more land and available water supply, per capita, than other leading agricultural countries like the United States , Brazil and China. What that means, he said, is that Canada has both great opportunities and great responsibilities in doing its part to meet this growing demand. Attendees also had an opportunity to visit a specially-prepared exhibit of memorabilia from the last seventy-five years. This was followed by a barbecue dinner featuring Canadian beef, pork, chicken, eggs and milk.

About Nutreco Canada

Nutreco Canada is a leading animal nutrition company that invests in research, development and technology application to deliver superior results for producers. Its brands, Shur-Gain and Landmark Feeds, offer a wide range of livestock and poultry nutrition and health solutions.

Published in Nutrition and Feed

Jul. 17, 2012, Tucker, GA - In a letter to the editor of Men’s Journal, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association and the National Chicken Council this week wrote to share viewpoints about the magazine’s reporting in its July 2012 edition about its preference for organic over conventionally raised chicken, that alluded to a recent feather meal study and claims of nutritional superiority (read the original press release here).

John Glisson, DVM, MAM, Ph.D., director of research programs at the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association and Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., vice president of science and technology at the National Chicken Council, offered a scientific perspective on the claims that certain chemical and antimicrobial residues were found in chicken “feather meal,” and thus are fed to chickens.

For instance, the study in question used a small sample size from 4 lb. and 22 lb. bags of feather meal. “The U.S. poultry industry does not use 4 lb. and 22 lb. bags of feather meal in its commercial feed formulations, and industry experts speculate that the material in these bags were intended to be used as organic fertilizer and not as a source of feed,” Glisson and Peterson wrote. “Furthermore, the study failed to address other potential delivery mechanisms for these types of substances, such as potable water.”

The letter seeks to remind Men’s Journal readers that all chicken produced in the United States is inspected by the USDA, and inspectors test chicken meat samples for chemical and antimicrobial residues so that all poultry is in compliance with USDA standards before it is allowed to enter the marketplace.

“We know consumers have many choices when it comes to their chicken meat purchases,” the letter continued. “However, we do not believe it serves consumers to stigmatize certain production systems to boost others.

“The amazing variety of chicken products today allows consumers to choose products that take into account many factors, including taste preference, personal values and affordability. Your readers should know, however, that USDA says the ‘organic’ label does not indicate that the product has safety, quality or nutritional attributes that are any higher than traditionally raised products.

“All chicken production systems, including organic, natural, and conventional methods, address issues as necessary to achieve its primary objective – the commitment to provide consumers with safe, wholesome and affordable food. The chicken industry works diligently to ensure that no matter which production system they choose to support with their food dollars, consumers can have confidence in the safety and nutrition of all of their chicken purchases,” concluded the letter.

The letter can be viewed here:

About U.S. Poultry & Egg Association

U.S. Poultry & Egg Association is an all-feather organization representing the complete spectrum of today’s poultry industry, with a focus on progressively serving member companies through research, education, communication, and technical assistance. Founded in 1947, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association is based in Tucker, GA.

About the National Chicken Council

The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce and process chickens. Member companies of NCC account for more than 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.

Published in Producers

Jul. 16, 2012, Washngton, DC - It is "imperative" that the U.S. build a large-animal biocontainment laboratory toprotect animal and public health, says a new report by the National Research Council.  Two options that could meet long-term needs include the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) facility as currently designed, or a scaled-back version tied to a distributed laboratory network.  Until such a facility opens that is authorized to work with highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease, the Plum Island Animal Disease Center located off Long Island should remain in operation to address ongoing needs.  The report concludes that there are important drawbacks for the U.S., should it rely solely on international laboratories to meet large animal Biosafety Level 4 needs in the long term. 

The proposed NBAF in Manhattan, Kan., would be the world's fourth Biosafety Level 4 laboratory capable of large animal research and would replace the aging Plum Island facility.  NBAF would study highly contagious foreign animal diseases -- including foot-and-mouth disease, which affects cattle, pigs, deer, and other cloven-hoofed animals -- as well as emerging and new diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people. However, given the estimated cost of $1.14 billion to construct NBAF at the proposed site and the country's current fiscal challenges, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security requested that the National Research Council analyze whether three options could meet the nation's laboratory infrastructure needs.

The three options as stipulated by DHS were: constructing NBAF as designed, constructing a "scaled-back" version of NBAF, and maintaining current capabilities at Plum Island Animal Disease Center.  Because the Plum Island facilities do not have large animal Biosafety Level 4 capacity -- containment of agents that are potentially life-threatening to humans and pose a high risk of transmission -- this type of work would have to be conducted at foreign laboratories.  

The scope of the committee's analysis was limited to examining the three options and explicitly excluded an assessment of specific site locations for the proposed laboratory facility; therefore, the report neither compares relative risks of the three options nor determines where foot-and-mouth disease research can be safely conducted.  In addition, the committee concluded that to most appropriately fill laboratory needs, all factors of concern will need to be considered in a more comprehensive assessment.

The report concludes that DHS' first option -- NBAF as currently designed -- includes all components of the ideal laboratory infrastructure in a single location and has been designed to meet the current and anticipated future mission needs of DHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  However, the proposed facility also has drawbacks, including substantial costs associated with construction, operation, and management; and not leveraging existing capacity at other containment laboratories in the U.S.

Regarding the second option, the report finds that a partnership between a central national laboratory of reduced scope and size and a distributed laboratory network can effectively protect the United States from foreign animal and zoonotic diseases, potentially realize cost savings, reduce redundancies while increasing efficiencies, and enhance the cohesiveness of a national system of biocontainment laboratories.  However, the cost implications of reducing the scope and capacity of a central facility are not known.

In its assessment of the third option, the report says that maintaining the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and leveraging foreign laboratories for large animal Biosafety Level 4 needs would avoid the costs of constructing a new replacement facility.  However, the facilities at Plum Island do not meet current standards for high biocontainment.  Given the uncertainty over priorities of a foreign laboratory and logistical difficulties in an emergency, it would not be desirable for the United States to rely on international laboratories to meet these needs in the long term. 

The report adds that because foot-and-mouth disease research remains critical for the U.S. animal health system, it will be essential to maintain the Plum Island facility until an alternative facility is authorized, constructed, commissioned, and approved for work with the virus.

Regardless of the options considered for a central facility, the report recommends that DHS and USDA develop and implement an integrated national strategy that utilizes a distributed system for addressing foreign animal and zoonotic disease threats.  The capital costs associated with maintaining or constructing modern laboratory facilities should be balanced with the need to support research priorities.  Therefore, it is critical for DHS and USDA to develop solutions that strike a balance between facilities costs and the research and development effort needed to protect American agriculture and public health. 

Pre-publication copies of the report can be attained here.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter.  Panel members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies' conflict-of-interest standards.  The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion.  For more information, visit

Published in Turkeys

Jul. 16, 2012, St. Louis, MO - During the Poultry Science Association (PSA) annual meeting held in Athens, Georgia, Novus International, Inc. presented two prestigious awards – the Outstanding Scholar and Teaching Awards.

Recipients of each award are recognized for their exceptional work both within and outside the classroom, along with their contributions to the Poultry Industry. This year's honorees are two leading professors of poultry science and nutrition; Dr. Craig N. Coon and Dr. Christopher D. McDaniel, respectively.

Outstanding Scholar Award

Novus collaborates with university research scientists to further nutrition research. As a means to formally recognize the value of these collaborative efforts, Novus established the Outstanding Scholar Award.

Dr. Craig N. Coon was recognized as the 2012 Outstanding Scholar for his accomplishments during a remarkable 40-year career serving the Poultry Industry. Dr. Coon is a professor and poultry nutritionist in the Department of Animal Science at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Dr. Coon teaches Principles of Nutrition to undergraduates, and teaches graduate-level courses in Biochemical Nutrition and Amino Acid and Protein Nutrition and Metabolism. His published work includes more than 250 refereed papers and nine book chapters. Dr. Coon is often invited to speak at national and international poultry meetings; he's delivered more than 300 presentations in 43 different countries.

"I'm humbled by this recognition," said Dr. Coon. "The University of Arkansas has fully supported my work and allowed me the opportunity to travel throughout the world to work with poultry producers; to help them solve their nutritional needs. I'd also like to thank Novus for sponsoring this award – it's a huge honor."

Teaching Award

The poultry industry is fortunate to have a wealth of talented research scientists and nutritionists who are dedicated to furthering advancements in poultry nutrition and production. The PSA has a peer-review committee established to honor an exceptional academic each year for the totality of their contributions toward research and student instruction.

Dr. Christopher D. McDaniel was presented with the 2012 Novus International Teaching Award during an awards banquet at the PSA Meeting in Athens, Georgia. Dr. McDaniel is a professor and poultry scientist in the Department of Poultry Science at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi.

Dr. McDaniel designs and teaches courses in avian reproduction, management of commercial layers and commercial poultry production. He is extensively involved in both undergraduate and graduate research training, along with direct supervisory instruction of graduate students. His illustrious accomplishments extend far beyond the classroom. Dr. McDaniel's service includes recognition as a Bettersworth Leadership Lecturer for Mississippi State University, Subject Editor for the Journal of Applied Poultry Research, and presenting research findings at scientific and industry meetings.

"I'm deeply honored to receive this award," said Dr. McDaniel. "To be recognized by my peers for doing the very things that I enjoy and am passionate about means a great deal. I'm grateful for Mississippi State's support, the wonderful and talented students that I'm fortunate to work with, the support and encouragement of my fellow research poultry scientists, and Novus for sponsoring the award."

"We're delighted to have the opportunity each year to recognize the accomplishments of leading poultry scientists and nutritionists," stated Dr. Scott Carter, Global Market Manager, Poultry, with Novus. "Dr. Coon and Dr. McDaniel are two of the industry's finest. We look forward to continuing to work with them and drawing upon their expertise for many years to come."

About Novus International, Inc.

Novus International, Inc. is a global leader in developing animal health and nutrition solutions based on science. Novus offers a broad range of essential nutrients that enable animals to grow to their genetic potential. For more information about how Novus is sustainably helping to feed the world affordable, wholesome food and achieve a higher quality of life, visit

Published in Researchers

« J’ai rêvé de travailler en nutrition animale et j’ai rêvé d’avoir une ferme. Quand on s’accroche à nos rêves, on finit par les réaliser. » Voilà 30 ans que Martine Bourgeois est conseillère en nutrition chez Shur-Gain et 20 ans qu’elle est productrice d’oeufs. Elle a aussi élevé quatre enfants, piloté de nombreux projets de recherche et multiplié les engagements bénévoles.

En mars dernier, elle est devenue l’une des cinq lauréates du prix Rosemary-Davis 2012, décerné par Financement agricole Canada. Cet honneur, réservé à des femmes qui se distinguent par leurs réalisations professionnelles et leur engagement en agriculture et agroalimentaire, est une fleur qu’elle reçoit avec le large sourire qu’on lui connaît. « Nous sommes beaucoup de femmes à travailler en agriculture, dit-elle. C’est important qu’on reconnaisse leur travail. »

Canadian Poultry magazine a rencontré Martine Bourgeois à la Ferme St-Ours, qu’elle dirige avec son conjoint Serge Lefebvre et sa soeur, Chantal Bourgeois. Située le long de la rivière Richelieu, la ferme porte le nom du village. Elle est bien connue des résidents du coin et des nombreux campeurs qui y passent l’été. Ils s’y procurent des oeufs frais du jour, choisis à même ceux qui arrivent directement du poulailler, sur un convoyeur à quelques pas derrière le comptoir de vente!

La Ferme St-Ours comprend aussi les fermes Avistar, Avitech, Aviterra et des Patriotes. Chacune a son gérant de ferme, pour un total d’environ 25 employés. Chacune a aussi une ou plusieurs vocations, qu’il s’agisse de production d’oeufs blancs ou bruns, d’oeufs biologiques, d’oeufs Oméga-3, d’oeufs d’incubation pour le poulet, de poulettes conventionnelles ou de poulettes biologiques.

L’entreprise comprend aussi des terres, dont la très grande partie est en régie biologique (quelques acres sont en transition pour devenir certifiés biologiques), ainsi qu’une érablière détenant une certification biologique. 

En 2010, les trois copropriétaires recevaient la médaille d’or de l’Ordre national du mérite agricole, la plus haute distinction en agriculture au Québec. « Mes grands-parents paternels avaient obtenu la même médaille d’or en 1951, souligne Martine Bourgeois. Cinquante-neuf ans plus tard, c’est au tour de leurs petites filles! »

À l’époque, rien ne laissait présager que la ferme laitière familiale deviendrait un jour une entreprise avicole avant-gardiste. Martine Bourgeois se souvient des nombreuses fois où elle est allée retrouver son grand-père à l’érablière après l’école, ou qu’elle allait chercher les vaches au pâturage avec son père.  

« À 14 ans, c’était clair pour moi : je voulais vivre de l’agriculture, raconte-t-elle. J’ai demandé à mon père de penser à ses filles pour la relève. »

Ses parents étant encore jeunes pour transférer la ferme à leurs enfants, Martine Bourgeois a complété des études en agriculture au Campus Macdonald de l’Université McGill et est devenue agronome nutritionniste à l’embauche de Shur-Gain. En 1986, elle accepte un poste spécialisé en nutrition avicole. « J’ai décidé de relever le défi et d’apprendre. J’ai suivi plusieurs formations à l’extérieur et participé à de nombreuses conférences et congrès sur la nutrition avicole, où souvent, il y avait très peu de femmes. » 

Passionnée par l’élaboration de nouveaux programmes d’alimentation et les projets de recherche qui l’amènent à côtoyer des collègues du Canada et de l’étranger, elle entretient malgré tout le rêve de posséder sa propre ferme. En 1993, avec son conjoint et sa soeur, un audacieux projet est présenté à ses parents : convertir la ferme laitière familiale en élevage de poules pondeuses. « Mes parents ont été très ouverts et ils ont accepté! C’est comme ça qu’a commencé notre aventure agricole. »

Depuis, l’entreprise a connu une croissance soutenue, tout en se distinguant par ses productions de niche. La Ferme des Patriotes est notamment la plus importante entreprise de production d’oeufs biologiques au Canada. Et au cours des dernières années, on s’est lancé dans la culture de tournesols, pour la production d’huile végétale biologique, vendue aussi en vinaigrette. « Cette une plante qui est tellement belle, souligne notre agronome agricultrice. Les gens du coin apprécient beaucoup. »

La boutique de la Ferme St-Ours est ouverte tous les matins, même la fin de semaine. On y trouve des oeufs frais, ainsi que des produits de l’érable biologiques et de tournesol biologiques. « Cela représente une partie infime de nos revenus, mais nous le faisons par plaisir, dit Martine Bourgeois. Les gens posent beaucoup de question sur la production avicole. C’est important d’avoir un contact avec les consommateurs et de les informer sur l’agriculture d’aujourd’hui. »

Tandis que Serge se concentre sur la gestion, les élevages et les cultures, Chantal s’occupe de la comptabilité et Martine coordonne les programmes alimentaires et vaccination, la boutique et la production de produits transformés à base d’érable et d’huile de tournesol.

Carrière en nutrition
En tant que directrice, nutrition et développement avicole chez Shur-Gain au Québec, Martine Bourgeois poursuit une carrière aussi passionnante qu’à ses débuts. 

Elle a développé et mis en application des programmes de nutrition entre autres pour la production d’oeufs enrichis d’acides gras Oméga 3, d’oeufs biologiques, d’oeufs à la fois biologiques et Oméga 3, de poulets alimentés « végétal », de poulets sans antimicrobiens, d’œufs d’incubation, de dindons,  de canards et oies, pintades, cailles et faisans. Les objectifs sont toujours les mêmes : améliorer la santé des animaux et leur efficacité alimentaire, réduire l’impact des élevages sur l’environnement et améliorer la rentabilité des élevages. 

Son travail l’amène à côtoyer les nutritionnistes des autres provinces, parfois même de d’autre pays. C’est avec des chercheurs du réseau de Nutreco (la compagnie mère de Shur-Gain) en Espagne qu’elle a mis au point récemment le programme ÉCOPONTE, qui se veut à la fois écologique et économique. L’apport en protéines brutes est diminué tout en maintenant la production d’oeufs, ce qui réduit à la fois les coûts de production et les rejets d’azote, explique-t-elle. 

Sa double charge de travail, à la ferme et chez Shur-Gain, ne l’a pas empêchée de présider le Rendez-vous avicole de l’AQINAC, de siéger au comité avicole du CRAAQ et à quelques comités de  l’Ordre des agronomes du Québec ou suivre de près l’apprentissage scolaire de ses enfants.   

Rendue à 30 ans de métier, Martine Bourgeois réalise à quel point les valeurs transmises par ses parents lui ont servi : ouverture sur le monde, écoute, travail bien fait et poursuite des rêves. Elle souhaite maintenant transmettre ses connaissances à ses collègues techniciens et conseillers en nutrition, tout en les encourageant à se bâtir des réseaux et à se procurer l’information de pointe où qu’elle se trouve dans le monde. 

Ses deux filles, ses deux garçons ainsi que les trois garçons de sa soeur Chantal auront une place à la ferme s’ils souhaitent y revenir après leurs études et après avoir acquis quelques expériences professionnelles, affirme-t-elle. Ils ont tous participé aux activités de la ferme, et participent encore. « La porte est ouverte. On ne sait jamais ce que la vie nous réserve! »

Published in Producers

"I dreamt of working in animal nutrition and I dreamt of having a farm. When one hangs on to dreams, they come true.”

Martine Bourgeois has now been working in animal nutrition for 30 years and producing eggs for 20 years. She has also raised four children, spearheaded several research projects and volunteered on several industry committees.

Last March, Bourgeois became one of five 2012 Rosemary Davis Award winners. This honour is awarded by Farm Credit Canada to women who are active leaders in agriculture and agri-food. “There are a lot of women working in agriculture. It’s important to recognize their contribution,” she says with her usual big smile.

Canadian Poultry magazine met Bourgeois at Ferme St-Ours, one of the egg farms she co-owns with her husband Serge Lefebvre and her sister Chantal Bourgeois. Located along the Richelieu River, near the village of Saint-Ours (one hour east of Montreal), the farm is well known to local residents and campers who spend the summer on the riverbank. Every morning, they can purchase day-fresh eggs, selected off the conveyor belt from the henhouse.

Ferme St-Ours comprises the following farms: Avistar, Avitech, Aviterra and des Patriotes. Each has a farm manager, for a total of 25 employees, as well as one or two specialized productions: white or brown eggs, organic eggs, omega-3 eggs, broiler hatching eggs, regular replacement pullets or organic replacement pullets.

The family business also includes farmland, most of it under organic certification (a few acres are in transition to organic), as well as an organic maple sugar shack.

In 2010, the three co-owners received the gold medal of the ‘Ordre national du mérite agricole du Quebec,’ the most prestigious award in Quebec agriculture. “My grandparents had received the same medal in 1951,” Bourgeois says. “Fifty-nine years later, it’s their granddaughters’ turn!”

No one would have predicted back then that the family dairy farm would become a flourishing poultry operation. Bourgeois remembers the times she would find her grandfather at the sugar shack after school or when she would fetch the cows from the pasture with her father.

“When I was 14, I already knew I wanted to work in agriculture. I asked my father to consider his daughters for a farm transfer.”

Because her parents were still too young to start a transfer to the next generation, Bourgeois completed a degree in agriculture at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus, became an agronomist and started working as a nutritionist for Shur-Gain.

In 1986, she was offered a position in poultry nutrition. “I decided to take up the challenge. I went to several training sessions and to many poultry conferences abroad, where there were very few women.”

Bourgeois worked with passion, setting up new feed programs and managing research projects, all the while holding on to her dream of having her own farm. In 1993, with her husband and her sister, a daring project was presented to her parents – converting the family’s dairy farm in a layer farm. “My parents were very open and they accepted!” Bourgeois says. “That’s how our farming adventure started!”

Ferme St-Ours has grown substantially since then, standing out of the crowd with its niche productions. Ferme des Patriotes is the largest organic egg operation in Canada. Recently, sunflowers were added to the crop rotation, for the production of organic sunflower oil, also used in salad dressing. “Sunflowers are so beautiful. People from the area really appreciated the view,” Bourgeois says.

Ferme St-Ours’ shop is open every morning, even Saturdays and Sundays. Customers may purchase fresh eggs, organic maple products and organic sunflower products. “This represents a very small part of our farm income, but we do it because we like it,” she says. “It’s important to have a contact with consumers and to inform them about today’s agriculture.”

Serge Lefebvre oversees crops, egg production and overall farm management. Chantal Bourgeois takes care of accounting and Martine manages feed and vaccination programs, the farm shop and the production of maple and sunflower products.

Career in nutrition
Martine Bourgeois has kept her position as full-time manager of poultry nutrition and development with Shur-Gain for Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

She has developed and implemented nutrition programs for several types of poultry production: omega-3 eggs, organic eggs, eggs enriched with omega-3 and lutein, “grain-fed” chicken, antimicrobial-free chicken, hatching eggs, turkey, duck, goose, quail, guinea-fowl and pheasant.

The goals for every feed program are always the same – improving bird health and feed efficiency, reducing environmental impacts and improving flock profitability. 

Bourgeois works with nutritionists from other provinces, sometimes from other countries. With researchers from Nutreco (the company that owns Shur-Gain) in Spain and Netherlands, she has come up with ÉCOPONTE, a program recently introduced in Quebec. The amount of crude protein in the feed is diminished, but egg production is maintained. This allows for lower production costs and less nitrogen in the manure. 

Despite a double workload at both the farm and Shur-Gain, Bourgeois has volunteered on a number of industry committees, such as AQINAC (feed industry association), CRAAQ (agricultural information centre) and the Quebec Order of Agronomists. She was also deeply involved in her children’s education.  

With 30 years of experience, Bourgeois now realizes that the values taught by her parents, such as being open to the world, listening, working hard and following one’s dreams are extremely important. She now wishes to transmit her knowledge to her colleagues at Shur-Gain, to encourage them to build their own networks and fetch the most up-to-date information from wherever it may be found in the world.  

There will always be a place on the farm for Bourgeois’ two daughters and sons, as well as her nephews, should they wish to come back after their studies and having gathered professional experience. All have worked on the farm and some still do. 

“The door is open,” Bourgeois says. “We never know what the future holds.”

Published in Producers

Jul. 12, 2012, Hong Kong - Three vaccines used to prevent respiratory disease in chickens have swapped genes, producing two lethal new strains that have killed tens of thousands of fowl across two states in Australia, scientists reported on Friday.

The creation of the deadly new variant was only possible because the vaccines contained live viruses, even though they were weakened forms, said Joanne Devlin, lead author of the paper published in the journal Science.

Devlin and her team discovered how closely related the two new strains were with viruses in the vaccines after analyzing their genes.

"What we found was the field viruses ... were actually a mixture of the genomes from different vaccine viruses," said Devlin, a lecturer at the University of Melbourne's School of Veterinary Science. "They actually combined, mixed together."

The viruses emerged in 2008, a year after Australia started using a European vaccine along with two very similar Australian vaccines to fight acute respiratory disease in poultry. The illness causes coughing, sneezing and breathing difficulties in birds, normally killing 5 percent of them.

The two new strains, however, were far more harmful, and since they were created have killed up to 17 percent of chicken flocks across Victoria and New South Wales, the two main chicken rearing states in Australia.

"What could have happened was one chicken was vaccinated with one vaccine and later was exposed to the other vaccine somehow, from nearby chickens," Devlin said.

Agricultural authorities in Australia have been informed of the results of the study, and are considering how to prevent similar cross-overs happening again.

"Use of only one vaccine in a population of birds will prevent different viruses from combining," Devlin said.

"Authorities are reviewing labels on vaccine to change the way vaccines are used and prevent different vaccines being used in one population."

For more information, see the complete paper:

Photo courtesy of Stephen Ausmus at the Agricultural Research Service, USDA.

Published in Genetics

Juil. 11, 2012, College Station, TX -The common barnyard chicken could provide some very un-common clues for fighting off diseases and might even offer new ways to attack cancer, according to a team of international researchers that includes a Texas A&M University professor.

James Womack, Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, is co-author of a paper detailing the team's work that appears in the current issue of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists). Womack was a leader in the international effort to sequence the cattle genome in 2004.

Womack and the team, comprised mostly of scientists from the Seoul National University in Korea, examined 62 White Leghorn and 53 Cornish chickens for diversity in NK-lysin, an antibacterial substance that occurs naturally in animals and is used as a method of fighting off diseases.

They were able to obtain two genetic variations of NK-lysin and the results offered two unexpected shockers: both showed abilities to fight off bacterial infections and other diseases, while one showed it could successfully fight cancer cells as well.

"It took all of us by surprise," Womack says of the findings.

"One of the genetic variations shows it has the ability to fight against cancer cells much more aggressively than the other variation. We certainly were not looking at the cancer side of this, but there it was."

Womack says the team selected the two breeds because Cornish and White Leghorn chickens, found throughout most of the world, have relatively diverse genetic origins.

After conducting a DNA sequence of the chickens, the team found two variations of the genes that offered clues as to their protective ability to ward off infections.

"One form appears to be more potent in killing off cancer cells than the other, and that's the one that naturally caught our eye," Womack adds.

"This could lead to other steps to fight cancer or in developing ways to prevent certain infections or even diseases. It's another door that has been opened up. We are looking at similar studies right now to see if this is possible with cattle.

"The next step is to work with other animals and see if similar variants exist. We need to look for any genetic similarities to the chicken variants and then determine if these variants affect the health of the animal, but this is an exciting first step in this direction."

The common barnyard chicken could provide some very un-common clues for fighting off diseases and might even offer new ways to attack cancer, according to a team of international researchers that includes a Texas A&M University professor.


James Womack, Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, is co-author of a paper detailing the team's work that appears in the current issue of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists). Womack was a leader in the international effort to sequence the cattle genome in 2004.

Womack and the team, comprised mostly of scientists from the Seoul National University in Korea, examined 62 White Leghorn and 53 Cornish chickens for diversity in NK-lysin, an antibacterial substance that occurs naturally in animals and is used as a method of fighting off diseases.

They were able to obtain two genetic variations of NK-lysin and the results offered two unexpected shockers:  both showed abilities to fight off bacterial infections and other diseases, while one showed it could successfully fight cancer cells as well.

"It took all of us by surprise," Womack says of the findings.

"One of the genetic variations shows it has the ability to fight against cancer cells much more aggressively than the other variation. We certainly were not looking at the cancer side of this, but there it was."

Womack says the team selected the two breeds because Cornish and White Leghorn chickens, found throughout most of the world, have relatively diverse genetic origins.

After conducting a DNA sequence of the chickens, the team found two variations of the genes that offered clues as to their protective ability to ward off infections. 

"One form appears to be more potent in killing off cancer cells than the other, and that's the one that naturally caught our eye," Womack adds.

"This could lead to other steps to fight cancer or in developing ways to prevent certain infections or even diseases. It's another door that has been opened up. We are looking at similar studies right now to see if this is possible with cattle.

"The next step is to work with other animals and see if similar variants exist. We need to look for any genetic similarities to the chicken variants and then determine if these variants affect the health of the animal, but this is an exciting first step in this direction."

Source: PR Newswire (

Published in Health

Jul. 9, 2012 - Hyperimmune egg yolk antibodies can be used to help control intestinal diseases in poultry, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists.

The antibiotic-free technology involves extracting antibodies from egg yolks from pathogen-free hens or female chickens that have been hyperimmunized—injected with a vaccine that contains inactivated pathogenic organisms. Hyperimmunized birds have a greater-than-normal immunity and produce a large amount of antibodies.

Avian immunologist Hyun Lillehoj at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., partnered with ARS colleagues, university scientists and collaborators from the Mexican company IASA (Investigacíon Aplicada, S.A.) on the studies. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

The group demonstrated the effectiveness of inducing passive immunity in young birds, which have no immune protection right after hatching, against coccidiosis, a devastating poultry disease.

Birds affected by coccidiosis are unable to absorb feed or gain weight. The disease costs the poultry industry more than $600 million in the United States and about $3 billion worldwide each year.

Treatments used to reduce the spread of disease include good management practices and live vaccinations. However, antibiotic-free alternatives are important to help fight drug-resistant strains and for organic poultry farmers, according to Lillehoj.

In the study, one-day-old chickens were given feed mixed with spray-dried egg yolk powder prepared from hens hyperimmunized with multiple species of the parasite Eimeria, which causes coccidiosis. The chickens were then exposed to live coccidia parasites. Chickens that had received the hyperimmune egg yolk antibodies gained more weight and shed significantly fewer Eimeria in their feces. The treated birds also had less gut lesions than chickens that did not receive the treatment.

A commercial product that helps control coccidiosis has been developed by a private company based on results of this research. In the future, similar methods may be used to help prevent other harmful poultry diseases.

Read more about this research in the July 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Published in Turkeys

Jul. 9, 2012 - In a joint study, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and Arizona State University found evidence suggesting that a class of antibiotics previously banned by the U.S. government for poultry production is still in use. Results of the study were published in Environmental Science & Technology.

The study, conducted by the CLF and Arizona State's Biodesign Institute, looked for drugs and other residues in feather meal, a common additive to chicken, swine, cattle and fish feed. The most important drugs found in the study were fluoroquinolones—broad spectrum antibiotics used to treat serious bacterial infections in people, particularly those infections that have become resistant to older antibiotic classes. The banned drugs were found in 8 of 12 samples of feather meal in a multi-state study. The findings were a surprise to scientists because fluoroquinolone use in U.S. poultry production was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005.

This is the first time investigators have examined feather meal, a byproduct of poultry production made from poultry feathers, to determine what drugs poultry may have received prior to their slaughter and sale.

The annual per capita human consumption of poultry products is approximately 100 pounds, greater than that of any other animal- or vegetable-derived protein source in the U.S. To satisfy this demand, each year, the U.S. poultry industry raises nearly 9 billion broiler chickens and 247 million turkeys, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A large percentage of the fresh weight of these animals is inedible—an estimated 33 percent for chickens, for example—and is recycled for other uses, including feather meal.

The rendering industry, which converts animal byproducts into a wide range of materials, processes poultry feathers into feather meal, which is often added as a supplement to poultry, pig, ruminant, and fish feeds or sold as an "organic" fertilizer. In a companion study, researchers found inorganic arsenic in feather meal used in retail fertilizers.

"The discovery of certain antibiotics in feather meal strongly suggests the continued use of these drugs, despite the ban put in place in 2005 by the FDA," said David Love, PhD, CLF Project Director and lead author of the report. "The public health community has long been frustrated with the unwillingness of FDA to effectively address what antibiotics are fed to food animals."

A primary reason for the 2005 FDA ban on the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry production was an alarming increase in the rate of the fluoroquinolone resistance among Campylobacter bacteria. "In recent years, we've seen the rate of fluoroquinolone resistance slow, but not drop," noted study co-author Keeve Nachman, PhD, Farming for the Future Program Director at CLF. "With such a ban, you would expect a decline in resistance to these drugs. The continued use of fluoroquinolones and unintended antibiotic contamination of poultry feed may help explain why high rates of fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter continue to be found on commercial poultry meat products over half a decade after the ban."

In the U.S., antibiotics are introduced into the feed and water of industrially raised poultry, primarily to make them grow faster, rather than to treat disease. An estimated 13.2 million kilograms of antibiotics were sold in 2009 to the U.S. poultry and livestock industries, which represented nearly 80 percent of all antibiotic sales for use in humans and animals in the U.S. that year.

In conducting the study, researchers analyzed commercially available feather meal samples, acquired from six U.S. states and China, for a suite of 59 pharmaceuticals and personal care products. All 12 samples tested had between 2 and 10 antibiotic residues. In addition to antimicrobials, 7 other personal care products, including the pain reliever acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), the antihistamine diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl) and the antidepressant fluoxetine (the active ingredient in Prozac), were detected.

Researchers also found caffeine in 10 of 12 feather meal samples. "This study reveals yet another pathway of unwanted human exposure to a surprisingly broad spectrum of prescription and over-the-counter drugs," noted study co-author Rolf Halden, PhD, PE, Co-Director of the Center for Health Information & Research, and Associate Director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at Arizona State University.

When researchers exposed several strains of E. coli bacteria to the concentrations of antibiotics found in the feather meal samples, they also discovered the drug residues could select for resistant bacteria. "A high enough concentration was found in one of the samples to select for bacteria that are resistant to drugs important to treat infections in humans," noted Nachman.

"We strongly believe that the FDA should monitor what drugs are going into animal feed," urged Nachman. "Based on what we've learned, I'm concerned that the new FDA guidance documents, which call for voluntary action from industry, will be ineffectual. By looking into feather meal, and uncovering a drug banned nearly 6 years ago, we have very little confidence that the food animal production industry can be left to regulate itself."


Published in Nutrition and Feed

June 29, 2012 - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists have developed a new method to create antimicrobials that kill disease-causing pathogens. These antimicrobials can be used as an alternative to antibiotics.

Growing concerns about antibiotic resistance to certain strains of bacteria and increasing restrictions on the use of antibiotics in animals has accelerated the need to find alternatives. Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the chief intramural scientific agency of USDA, are working to provide new strategies for enhancing production and improving overall animal health. This research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

The patented technology for designing pathogen-targeted antimicrobials is the work of molecular biologist David Donovanat the ARS Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) in Beltsville, Md. Donovan works in the center's Animal Biosciences and Biotechnology Laboratory.

Viruses that infect bacteria, called bacteriophages (phages), produce enzymes that can be used to kill pathogens. These novel enzymes have been shown to be effective in killing pathogens like streptococci and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA.

Collaborating with industry, university and federal scientists, Donovan demonstrated that these particular enzymes have molecular domains that can be isolated and will act independently of their protein surroundings. They kill bacteria by eating or chewing up the walls of cells.

The enzymes can be manipulated to create an antimicrobial that targets and kills only specific pathogens. This greatly reduces the probability that non-targeted bacteria will develop resistance.

Read more about this research in the May/June 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Published in Turkeys

June 29, 2012 - Natural compounds may offer an alternative to certain antibiotics in the future for treating young animals that are susceptible to bacterial infections, thanks to work by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists.

Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Food and Feed Safety Research Unit in College Station, Texas, have invented a new method that involves using chlorate (sodium or salt) and nitro compounds to significantly reduce or eliminate intestinal bacterial pathogens in animals such as piglets and calves. Nitro compounds are organic substances that contain one or more nitro groups, which consist of three atoms—one of nitrogen and two of oxygen—that act as one.

ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

Chlorate and nitro compounds have proven to be effective against the foodborne pathogens Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7. Salmonella alone causes more than 1.3 million cases of human foodborne disease each year, at a cost of $2.4 billion. Salmonella and certain E. coli strains also cause considerable losses to the swine and cattle industries due to enteric or intestinal diseases of newborns.

Microbiologist Robin Anderson and his colleagues at the College Station unit demonstrated the effectiveness of a chlorate-based compound in earlier research by mixing it into water or feed and giving it to cattle. The compound, which was highly effective in reducing E. coli., has been licensed by a private company. Chlorate also reduced Salmonella in turkeys and broiler chickens.

In addition, scientists looked at using certain nitro compounds as a method to control foodborne bacteria. Salmonella or E. coli bacteria were treated with or without chlorate and with or without nitro compounds. Chlorate was found to have significant bacteria-killing activity against E. coli and Salmonella. However, chlorate has not been approved for commercial use in food animals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. When the nitro compound was added, the activity was enhanced 10- to 100-fold. Nitro compounds alone had significant bacteria-killing activity, which was more persistent than that of chlorate.

Anderson and his team concluded that nitro and chlorate compounds together were the best treatment—a combination that could offer an alternative to certain antibiotics that are commonly used to treat diarrheal infections in young animals.

Read more about this research in the May/June 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Published in Environment

The federal government has provided the Atlantic Poultry Research Institute (APRI) at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College with $600,000 to assist its feed and health research.

In announcing the grant on behalf of federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, Scott Armstrong, the Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MP, said the research investment will help Atlantic Canadian poultry producers remain competitive, “by ensuring they continue to improve upon their quality products in order to meet the demands of today’s health-conscious consumer.”

Six projects will receive funds for research into better nutrients and improved disease resistance for the regional poultry industry. This funding will benefit consumers, as it will support research into ways to increase omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants in eggs and chickens, plus ways to improve flock health and reduce disease.

The research projects also include the identification of healthy, cost-effective alternatives to traditional feed, such as omega-rich crab meal, canola seeds and cold-pressed canola oil, development of a new approach to vaccination, as well as finding an alternative to antibiotics to ensure poultry health while assuring the concerns of safety-conscious consumers.

According to APRI’s CEO, Dr. Derek Anderson, all programs will be completed by Dec. 31, 2013, and the research aims to “find some answers for the poultry industry with respect to alternatives to antibiotics and the efficacy of feeding low protein diets formulated to meet amino acid requirements of laying hens by using synthetic amino acids.”

Dr. Anderson also hopes to reduce the cost of poultry diets without having detrimental effects on production performance. Methods include the use of opportunity feed ingredients and the development of omega-3 fatty acid enriched eggs by feeding crab meal.

The Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program’s four councils in the Atlantic region, led by Agri-Futures Nova Scotia, will deliver the investment in the research projects.

Nova Scotia will also contribute $220,000 to the projects from its Technology Development Program. Nova Scotia Minister of Agriculture John MacDonell observed: “The Government of Nova Scotia is investing in these projects to support scientific research that will improve the poultry sector’s adaptability, competitiveness and innovation.”

As of 2010, Atlantic Canada’s 235 chicken, turkey and egg farmers generated $259 million in revenue at the farm gate.
The research is also heavily producer-driven, said Dr. Anderson.

He noted: “APRI is an Atlantic-wide institute that has successfully leveraged funds from the industry and from government to further its applied research needs, which in turn are identified with input from each of the Atlantic provinces’ poultry marketing boards.”

Anderson added that, for the APRI, the new research grant means active research on broiler chickens and laying hens will provide training related to poultry for graduate students and research personnel.

For the producers, he continued, it could mean lower cost diets, alternative feed ingredients, as well as alternatives to antibiotics for broilers and increased broiler weight gains.

He also emphasized APRI works from producer-generated priority lists and the organization supplied the foundation dollars to start the funding process.

Published in Consumer

Dr. Ian Duncan, Dr. Steve Leeson and the late Dr. Bruce Hunter were each recipients of a 2012 Poultry Worker of the Year Award in Guelph, Ont., on May 8 during a ceremony at the Poultry Industry Council’s Spring Symposium. The annual award recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to the poultry industry.

Duncan, who earned his PhD in Scotland, began his career with groundbreaking research on frustration and conflict behaviour of domestic fowl. His first published work on animal welfare in 1975 is now regarded as the pioneering foundation of the animal welfare work being done today.

During his tribute, friends described Duncan as a world-renowned researcher and tireless mentor for students. He has published more than 150 papers on animal welfare and has left a legacy in teaching, challenging and inspiring thousands of people, colleagues and students.


How important is a nest to a hen? Duncan has spent his career trying to find the answers to such questions, investigating beyond simple biological functions to question what’s going on in their heads. Duncan had a way of making chicken research fun, all the while making people think about the importance of how animals feel and finding ways to measure those feelings.

In his acceptance speech, the now professor emeritus and chair in animal welfare at the University of Guelph acknowledged that some of his work has “caused some pain” in the industry, but he hopes that people can look back in 10 years and say, “That sod was right!”

Regarded as the “god of poultry nutrition,” Steve Leeson has made a high-impact contribution to the poultry industry through the volume and quality of his work. He has authored or co-authored 18 books, 351 articles in refereed journals and 82 articles in trade journals, averaging out to one publication per month over the course of his career. He has also advised or co-advised more than 40 graduate students from around the world.

Leeson’s focus has been on nutrition, not only for birds but for people as well. Craig Hunter of Burnbrae Farms said that Leeson had a real sense of research priorities that were relevant to the industry, and he credited Leeson with opening up a new era of production and marketing opportunities with such designer egg products as omega-3 eggs.

“I’ve gotten a few awards over the years but none means more than this because this is from you,” said Leeson to his peers in his acceptance speech.

During a very emotional presentation, Daina Hunter accepted the award on behalf of her late husband, Dr. Bruce Hunter, who passed away suddenly in October 2011 at the age of 61. The award acknowledged Hunter’s 33 years of teaching and research that encompassed poultry and fur farming, as well as environmental conservation.

Hunter started his career with exotic birds and reptiles, running the Ontario Veterinary College wild bird clinic for more than 15 years. He wrote what is known as “Bruce’s Black Book on Mink Farming” – the recognized “go-to” handbook for that industry. He retired from the OVC department of pathobiology in 2010 as a full professor.

Hunter was instrumental in setting up a Canadian Community of Practice in EcoHealth (CoPEH) and a graduate-level course in ecosystem approaches to health involving University of Guelph, the University of British Columbia and Université du Québec à Montréal. He was also co-leader of a poultry project in Ghana for Veterinarians Without Borders.

Strong, Silent type

Robert Jacobs, chair of pathobiology at OVC, described Hunter as the “strong, silent type with a spontaneous smile” who was humble to the point of being apologetic. “He left a legacy of unselfishness and a love of people,” said veterinarian Mike Joyce. Al Dam, OMAFRA poultry specialist, said that Hunter always had time for everyone and made you feel like you already had the answer to your own questions, “he just teased it out of you.”

During his tribute, friends described Hunter as “Grizzly Adams” in appearance, a man well respected as a teacher, mentor and collaborator who had a natural gift for communication and the ability to bring people together.

Published in Trade

On May 8, 2012, the Poultry Industry Council (PIC) held its Spring Symposium (formerly known as Research Day), celebrating the careers of three distinguished poultry researchers, as well as highlighting research regarding poultry health and disease that it helps fund.

The day began with the presentation of the Poultry Worker of the Year Award to Ian Duncan, who did groundbreaking work on laying hen welfare, and poultry nutrition researcher Steve Leeson. Also honoured was the late Bruce Hunter, a much beloved teacher and researcher from the Ontario Veterinary College. Each award was preceded by a short video featuring colleagues and peers discussing the recipients’ accomplishments and significance to the field. All of the honorees were emotional and extremely thankful, none more so than Bruce Hunter’s widow, who was noticeably touched by the kind words said.

The rest of the day was devoted to researchers discussing various aspects of poultry health and disease, beginning with Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt from the University of Montreal, who discussed putting disease into perspective.

Vaillancourt stated that animal loss due to disease is a continuous and significant problem that claims a large number of animals each and every year. Inside the poultry system, he said, diseases constantly change and adapt, and therefore it is a constant battle between management and prevention.

He also said that as density continues to increase, productivity will continue to decrease because production diseases and infection pressure will rise. “The potential costs are huge if we are unprepared,” he said, “and can have major effects on human health as well.”

The second speaker at the symposium was Cindy-Love Tremblay, a PhD student at the University of Montreal studying antimicrobial resistance in birds and how normal gut flora could acquire resistance. Her results have shown that healthy poultry could be a reservoir for resistance genes, which could quickly spread throughout a population of bacteria.
Although the research is only in its early stages, Tremblay said that future work could be used to help reduce resistance by decreasing the ability of the bacteria to exchange genes.

Shayan Sharif from the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph followed with an explanation on the potential uses of probiotics in humans, as well as poultry. According to him, the use of a combination of probiotics in chickens can help modulate the immune response, increase weight gain, improve feed conversion and decrease both mortality and overall parasite/bacteria load.

This was demonstrated in tests using a cocktail of three different probiotic bacteria; the researchers found that the cocktail can help enhance the chickens’ immune response. Research is also being done on the potential antibacterial properties of probiotics using a new cocktail of five different probiotics targeted against a specific strain of Salmonella.
Ben Wood, a geneticist from Hendrix Genetics, then took to the podium to discuss the challenges associated with selecting for specific traits in turkeys. He said that screening for metabolic disorders with a genetic basis are quite effective, but artificially selecting against behaviour and pathogen resistance is more difficult.

The reason for this, Wood said, is that, by selecting for improved resistance, the results visibly decrease the presentation of commercially viable traits, such as growth rate and feed conversion. “And until breeders get the word that consumers are willing to pay for less product,” he added, “things aren’t going to change.”

The final scientific presentation was by Michele Guerin from the University of Guelph on the prevalence of Salmonella serovars in breeder flocks in Ontario. The results showed that there was a seasonal difference between Salmonella’s presence in breeders (more pronounced in the fall) and hatcheries (summer), and that the best way to eliminate an outbreak is constant monitoring at the breeder flock and hatcheries across all poultry types. She noted that if she and her research team could gain a better understanding of why these seasonal patterns occur, they could design studies to show how these infections could be prevented.

Len Jewitt, owner of BLT Farms Inc., a turkey, egg and broiler operation north of Guelph, ended the day with an emotional presentation on the impact of disease at the farm level. Jewitt, who several years ago had one of his layer barns test positive for Salmonella enteritidis (SE), he explained that there are many costs to the producer when disease strikes, and these go beyond dollars and cents.

The biggest challenge was the mental cost. “This is something that as an industry, we don’t want to talk about,” he said.

He said the positive result made him feel “like a loser,” and he asked himself what had gone wrong, as he and his employees had been so clean and had followed all necessary protocols.

He finished his talk with a piece of advice for those who are responsible for going on the farm and beginning the depopulation and disinfection process – to use a gentle hand. “Remember you are walking into someone’s dreams,” he said.

Published in Genetics

Concern for the welfare of laying hens housed in conventional battery cages, a behaviourally restrictive housing environment, is growing, and an increasing number of producers are preparing to transition to alternative housing systems such as furnished cages. However, converting to new housing systems is not as simple as placing hens into them and being rewarded with good welfare and high production. Although furnished housing provides more behavioural freedom, it presents other challenges.

To address the challenges of intensive and competitive production in these alternative cage environments, Dr. Michelle Jendral and her research team at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College have been evaluating laying hen production in furnished cage systems. Their overall goal has been to compare production, physiological, behavioural and condition parameters of three laying hen strains: Lohmann Brown (LB), LL (LL) and Shaver White. The hens were housed in conventional battery and furnished large group cages over two production cycles, to assess hen health, welfare and productivity in, and strain suitability to, the different housing environments.

Included in this large, multidisciplinary study was an assessment of the prevalence and severity of osteoporosis and bone fractures, as determined from the incidence of breaks during the production cycle and after processing, as well as the bone breaking strength at end of cycle, feed consumption, egg production and quality, and calcium metabolism efficiency during the production period. Behaviour was monitored through live observation and digitally recorded footage to quantify hen prelay and nesting behaviour, dustbathing and amenity use, aggression, stereotypies, comfort and locomotory activity. Condition of the integument was monitored to further assess hen health, and blood white cell counts and tonic immobility were conducted to assess hen stress and fear.

Their findings? In contrast to previous findings in Dr. Jendral’s laboratory, when hens were housed at 450 cm2 in furnished and conventional cages, the current study housed birds at 660 cm2, and no treatment differences in femoral or tibial bone breaking strength were found. The increased floor space allowance in the current trials may have encouraged sufficient static walking activity in conventional cages to contribute to structural bone preservation. Notably, treatment differences in furcula, keel, pubis, wing and leg bone fractures were largely absent throughout the production periods, possibly reflecting the positive impact of increased floor space provision on structural bone preservation. However, humeral breaking strength values were lower in conventional than in furnished cages, suggesting that providing increased cage height and raised amenities such as perches and a dustbath, which increase hen opportunity for wing movement, is necessary to maintain humeral architecture in caged hens. Furthermore, a high incidence of processing-related fracture was seen in both housing treatments, suggesting that cumulative structural bone loss remains a concern in commercial strains, and that genetic selection for birds that are better able to preserve structural bone should remain a priority. In the more prohibitive conventional cage environment, lighter hybrid strains were also more susceptible to osteoporosis. Importantly, both humeral and femural bone data from this study support the provision of increased floor space and cage height above current national standards.

Despite findings that hens housed in furnished cages at 450cm2 consume more feed than hens housed in conventional cages at the same density, housing treatment differences in feed consumption were not observed in the current flocks.

This suggests that at a greater floor space provision, freedom of movement is increased in both systems, and movement is sustained through similar energy intake. Notably, in both housing systems, and at all ages, LB hens consumed the most feed, followed by LL and then Shaver White hens.

Strain differences in body weight were apparent in both conventional and furnished cages at both peak and late production, with LB hens weighing the most on average, followed by LL and Shaver White. Significant changes in body weight, primarily observed for LB hens, emphasize the importance of group size, management and housing interaction on bird health.

Treatment differences in egg production and quality were largely absent. In both systems, LB hens produced heavier eggs than Lohmann White and Shaver White hens and had stronger shells, and LB and Shaver White hens appeared to better maintain shell thickness with age than LL. Overall, eggs from LB and Lohmann White hens were found to be stronger than those from Shaver White. Since Jendral et al. (2008) previously observed treatment differences in egg quality when hens were housed in furnished cages and conventional cages at 450 cm2 usable floor space, but did not in this study, in which hens were housed at 660 cm2, bone and egg findings from the current research suggest that increasing floor space allocation for caged hens contributes to both bone and egg quality.

Prelay behavioural findings indicate that provision of a nest box in furnished cages permitted expression of normal nesting activity, resulting in an overall decrease in hen frustration. As a result, hens showed increased expression of comfort behaviour, which was likely facilitated by the higher cage height in furnished cages and the additional floor space created in the cage area when the nest box was in use. Reduced aggressive pecking in general, and reduced feather pecking for LL hens, was also observed in furnished cages. High levels of and variation in displacement activity in both systems suggest that nesting was frustrated in conventional cages, and that competition for the nest space did occur in the large group furnished cages, as also evidenced from some nesting in the cage area in furnished cages.

Despite the competition for the dustbathing space in large group furnished cages, as evidenced by aggressive pecking in all strains and reduced bathing activity by larger LB birds, hens in these cages used the facility to express dustbathing and foraging behaviours. The provision of a dustbath in which the smaller LL and Shaver White hybrids could dustbathe, and the larger LB hybrids could predominantly forage, likely minimized the expression of feather pecking behaviour. Dr. Jendral believes these findings provide evidence that foraging and dustbathing are highly motivated behaviours, and permitting hens to express these activities mitigates the performance of redirected damaging behaviours. Amenity space provision, design and timing of substrate delivery must be further examined to reduce competition for bathing and foraging facilities in cage environments.

Total feather condition did not differ between treatments early in the production cycles; however, treatment and strain differences were apparent with age. Also, considerable variation in individual hen feather cover existed within the cages. In furnished cages, this was likely reflective of the large and potentially unstable group size, which from the behavioural data, appears to have led to competition for amenities, and feather pecking of subordinate birds.

In conventional cages, frustrated nesting activity, as evidenced from the prelay behavioural data and redirected foraging and bathing activity, likely contributed to feather pecking. In general, hens in furnished cages had improved back, breast and wing condition over conventionally caged hens, which provides evidence that despite the large and likely unstable group size, provision of amenities in furnished cages permitted behavioural expression that reduced frustration and redirected feather pecking activity. High variability in hen condition in furnished cages combined with the absence of treatment differences in hen stress and fear response provide additional evidence that, despite increased freedom of behavioural expression in furnished cages, the large group size in furnished cages is nonetheless contributing to hen stress.

The findings from this research provide compelling evidence for the production and welfare benefits conferred by providing caged hens with adequate space and amenities to express natural and load-bearing activities. Variation in individual hen and overall strain response to large group housing suggests that further studies examining group size, in combination with stocking density, strain analyses and amenity design must be conducted. Layer breeding programs must also continue to be adapted to select against metabolically and environmentally induced disorders. To read more, please visit

Featured Researcher

Michelle J. Jendral completed her PhD in Animal Science in August 2008, at the University of Alberta. The focus of her doctoral research concerned the development of sustainable cage and non-cage housing systems for laying hens that balance hen productivity, health and well-being. Currently, Michelle is an assistant professor, Poultry Behaviour and Welfare, at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro, N.S., where she is continuing her research in laying hen housing systems. Additional research interests include production and welfare issues facing the poultry industry, poultry behaviour, neuroethology and cognitive processes, and the importance of the human-animal interaction in animal production. Michelle teaches courses in domestic animal behaviour, avian biology, avian production systems, applied ethology and animal welfare.

Published in Housing

Concerns over the presence of mycotoxins, the secondary toxic metabolites produced by various moulds in poultry feed, are nothing new. Major effects on birds include poor weight gain/egg production, reproduction and immunity.

Historically, mycotoxin research focused on the effects of a single mycotoxin, but in the last decade or so, research has turned towards uncovering the menacing world of toxic interactions that can occur when two or more different mycotoxins are present in feed. “These interactions can lead to toxicity at very low concentrations – concentrations at which no toxicity is expected when we look at each mycotoxin in isolation,” says Dr. Swamy Haladi, global technical manager, mycotoxin management team at Alltech Canada in Guelph, Ontario.

Haladi and his Alltech colleague Dr. Ted Sefton, along with University of Guelph scientists Dr. Herman Boermans and Dr. Niel Karrow, have been trying to understand these interactions based on the published research work. “Toxicity from interactions has already been assessed when two different mycotoxins are present in the same feed (see table), but the issue gets more complicated when three or more mycotoxins are present,” Haladi explains. “With some mycotoxins, their combined toxicity is simply their individual toxicity levels added together. However, with some, there is a synergistic interaction that makes the feed far more toxic than one would predict.”

Mycotoxins in feed

The most significant mycotoxins for the global poultry industry include aflatoxins, ochratoxins, T-2 toxin, deoxynivalenol (DON), fumonisins and zearalenone (ZEA). Fusarium mycotoxins such as DON and ZEA are the most common and widespread throughout Canada, while ergot toxins tend to be a bigger challenge in Western Canada. Haladi says other Fusarium mycotoxins such as 3-acetyl DON, and 15-acetyl DON are also frequently found in Canadian feedstuffs at low levels, but they are seldom tested for. “Although not common, T-2 toxin and its related compounds may also be present,” he notes.

Haladi also says that research from Dr. Trevor Smith’s lab at University of Guelph shows that turkeys are the most sensitive poultry species to Fusarium mycotoxins, and among chickens, laying hens have higher risk than broiler chickens due to their long-term exposure.

Since one mould can produce several mycotoxins, and several moulds can be present in one feedstuff, it is expected that there are likely more mycotoxins present in a given feed sample than are being tested for. “If a sample contains T-2 toxin, for example, chances are there are several others, likely HT-2 toxin and neosolaniol, present as well,” Haladi explains. “We know now that these toxins contribute to the toxicity of T-2 toxin, but because we neither test for their presence nor had a way of analyzing their interactions, we have a false sense of security about that sample of feed. This is why it’s so important to be able to test for and analyze as many toxins as possible in an affordable and timely manner.”

To be able to assess the toxicity of a feed containing multiple mycotoxins, Haladi and his colleagues propose a ‘Toxicity Index’ (TI) for each mycotoxin present in the feed based on published ‘LD50 values’ (these values are the concentration at which half the one-day-old chicks that ingest it, perish).

“The TIs are calculated using the ratio of LD50 value of the least toxic mycotoxin by the LD50 value for each of the other mycotoxins identified,” Haladi explains. “Each TI is then multiplied by the corresponding mycotoxin concentration in the feed. The products of such multiplication are then added to obtain a total mycotoxin concentration, which can then be used to predict the potential toxicity of the feed.”

Next steps

Being able to calculate a TI value for every feed sample depends on two main factors – the first being to identify and quantify all mycotoxins in feed. Haladi says quick ELISA mycotoxin tests are important for use on grain at Canadian feed mills, but that test only screens for DON. “This is where Alltech’s 37+ Program will be able to help,” Haladi says. “It will be commercialized this year, and will allow 38 mycotoxins to be analyzed in a single run using sophisticated analytical equipments such as Ultra Pressure Liquid Chromatography with double mass spectrometry.” According to Haladi, this methodology is very accurate and sensitive. “Our recent analysis of 37+ Program has shown that more than 90 per cent of North American feed ingredients contained one or more mycotoxin,” says Haladi. “About 45 per cent of samples contained five or more mycotoxins.”

The other factor is that not all LD50 values have been determined. “More research to find LD50 values for the less-studied mycotoxins is needed,” Haladi notes.

“There is no single magic bullet for mycotoxin control,” he concludes. “Mycotoxins are formed in the field as well as in storage. Minimizing mycotoxin production is a matter of using various management programs on-farm and at feed mills.

However, knowing the toxicity that results from interactions between toxins is another tool to help the poultry industry reach better bird health and productivity.”

Some mycotoxin interactions in poultry

Dr. Swamy Haladi says that with some mycotoxins, their combined toxicity is simply their individual toxicity levels added together. However, with some, there is a synergistic interaction that makes the feed far more toxic than one would predict.

Mycotoxins  –  Type of interaction
Aflatoxin  B1 X Ochratoxin A – Synergistic
Aflatoxin B1 X Diacetoxyscirpenol – Synergistic
Aflatoxin B1 X T-2 toxin – Synergistic
Aflatoxin B1 X Cyclopiazonic acid –   Additive
Aflatoxin B1 X Deoxynivalenol –   Additive
Ochratoxin A X T-2 toxin   –  Additive
Ochratoxin A X Cyclopiazonic acid  –  Additive
T-2 toxin X Deoxynivalenol  –  Synergistic
T-2 toxin X Fumonisin B1 –   Additive
Fumonisin B1 X Moniliformin  –  Additive
Fumonisin B1 X Fusaric acid   – Synergistic
(source: Devegowda and Krishnamurthy, 2005)

Published in Nutrition and Feed

Dr. John Prescott and his team of researchers at the University of Guelph have taken significant steps towards a better understanding of necrotic enteritis and developing a vaccine that can protect broiler chickens from the disease.

Why an NE vaccine?

Necrotic enteritis (NE) is among the most common enteric (intestinal) diseases in poultry. It is caused by the bacterium Clostridium perfringens, which adheres and causes damage to gut tissues. Left unchecked, this damage can impair nutrient absorption and in some cases open the door to other gut infections such as coccidiosis. An NE-affected flock may suffer from increased mortality, but often “sub-clinical” cases don’t present any signs other than reduced flock performance. Without obvious signs, these cases can go unnoticed, and therefore untreated. Reduced performance, increased mortality and correlation with other diseases add up to significant losses for the industry, with some estimates as high as $2 billion a year globally. NE is currently controlled with antibiotics; however, increasing concern over antibiotic resistance are putting pressure on the industry to find alternative methods of disease control.

NE is more complex than we thought

Research from around the globe suggests that C. perfringens carries specific genes associated with its ability to cause disease. However despite extensive study, it is not entirely clear why some strains of the bacterium cause disease while others do not. Dr. Prescott’s group has confirmed that several of these so-called ’virulence’ genes can be found on small, portable strands of DNA known as plasmids that are readily passed from one bacterium to another.  Genetic analysis reveals the plasmid DNA sequences are often re-arranged during transfer resulting in a variety among bacteria; some strains have the information that confers the ability to cause disease whereas others do not. Dr. Prescott has been able to identify genes common among virulent strains of C. perfringens and determine which are important for causing NE. 

What is becoming clear from this and other research around the world is that it is likely the combined effects of several bacterial genes, each with different functions, that contribute to the development of NE. For example, one of the genes identified is responsible for production of a secreted protein that may be crucial to the bacterium’s ability to adhere to cells in the bird’s intestine. Another gene directs bacterial production of a toxin that contributes to the intestinal cell damage associated with NE. Continuing research into the complexities of this disease is revealing insights into potential strategies for its control.

A vaccine in THE making

Dr. Prescott’s approach to controlling NE is to identify the bacterial proteins that contribute to development of NE then immunize the bird against them – if the bird’s immune system can neutralize the effect of one or more of these proteins, NE is much less likely to develop. To be effective, this strategy would elicit an immune response in the intestine. The researchers started with a Salmonella vaccine that can do just that. Using modern molecular biology techniques, they modified the vaccine so it could confer resistance to Clostridia in addition to Salmonella. Early tests of this strategy show that immunized broiler chickens can be protected from NE, and further tests are underway to confirm these exciting results.

Next steps

The researchers will further characterize the roles that selected virulence genes play in development of NE. Based on these results, additional vaccine vectors may be engineered that elicit immune responses to one or more gene products. Candidate vaccines will be tested for their ability to protect birds from C. perfringens challenge and vaccination protocols will be optimized.

Establishing an effective, stable vaccine platform with which to mitigate the effects of NE would be of great benefit to the poultry industry, especially in the face of increasing pressure to find alternative means to control this important disease.

The CPRC, Poultry Industry Council and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs provided funding for this work in partnership with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as part of Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

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 Genetics

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