Research

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

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

Published in Genetics

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

Published in Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Nutrition and Feed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Published in Turkeys

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 

 

 

Published in Meat - Broilers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Published in Genetics

September 26, 2014 - Farmer-led research to find new feed wheat varieties will receive $400,000 as part of a commitment to innovation under Growing Forward 2, Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Minister Ron Kostyshyn announced yesterday.

The focus of this four-year project is to develop new feed wheat varieties that have characteristics such as high yield, flood tolerance, fusarium resistance and tolerance for Manitoba soils with high salinity.  It will use traditional plant breeding techniques, so any resulting varieties will not be considered genetically modified and could be used in all livestock operations.

"It's important for Manitoba farmers and the biofuels sector to have access to feed wheat varieties tailored to our growing conditions," said Minister Kostyshyn. "This research is based on the priorities of Manitoba's farmers. Growing more of our own animal feed within the province will lead to economic benefits for grain farmers, livestock producers and rural communities."

The research will be led by the Western Feed Grain Development (WFGD) Co-op, which was established in 2005 to find new wheat varieties suitable for livestock feed and the ethanol industry.  WFGD and its farmer-members are also contributing $1.8 million toward this research.

"The WFGD Co-op is unique because farmers can invest and participate in the development of varieties they can use on their own farm and we're pleased to receive funding from Growing Forward 2," said David Rourke, WFGD Co-op director. "We are looking forward to applying these funds to our breeding program and addressing major areas of concern for Prairie producers, including post-seeding excess moisture, salinity, and aster yellows. WFGD Co-op is developing wheat varieties that will help to minimize the economic losses that result from these crop production challenges."

Research into new feed wheat varieties supports the goals of the Grain Innovation Hub, a framework announced by ministers in May 2014 to establish Manitoba as a leader in the grain industry through strategic investments in grain production, research and processing.

This project is one of 32 funded this year through Growing Innovation - Agri-Food Research and Development Initiative (GI-ARDI) under Growing Forward 2. In total, more than $3.2 million will be invested in industry-led research for the crops, livestock, agri-environment and food sectors.  The next intake date for GI-ARDI projects is October 2, 2014.

The federal and provincial governments are investing $176 million in Manitoba under Growing Forward 2, a five-year, federal-provincial-territorial policy framework to advance the agriculture industry, helping producers and processors become more innovative and competitive in world markets.

The WFGD Co-op registered its first Canada Western General Purpose wheat, WFT603, in 2014.  For more information about the organization, visit www.wfgd.ca. To apply for GI-ARDI funding, visit www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture under Growing Forward 2.

Published in Nutrition and Feed

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

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

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

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

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

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


Published in Eggs - Layers

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Published in Genetics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Published in Welfare

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

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

Read more about the new program here.  

 

 

Published in Consumer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Published in New Technology

CPRC made a significant change to its funding process in 2012 by moving to a two-stage system. This new method includes an initial call for Letters of Intent (LOI) followed by a full proposal from a short list of projects drawn from the LOIs. The change allows CPRC to better tailor the research it supports to industry-identified priorities as laid out in the National Research Strategy for Canada’s Poultry Sector (the Strategy), available from the research page of CPRC’s website, www.cp-rc.ca. CPRC is now able to provide feedback to researchers (prior to the full proposal stage) on LOIs that are of interest but that may not fully address priority issues. This allows the researchers and CPRC to discuss changes in the objectives and/or work plan to more closely align the project with industry priorities.

CPRC’s call for LOIs was cancelled in 2013 so that funds allocated for research for that year could be directed to the new Poultry Science Cluster. The 2014 call for LOIs was issued in April with submissions due June 1st. This year’s call also included some additional changes to better align the LOI calls with industry priorities.

CPRC has used the following five research categories for funding calls for many years:

  • Avian Gut Microbiology
  • Environment
  • Food Safety and Poultry Health
  • Poultry Welfare and Behaviour
  • Novel Feedstuffs

CPRC also funds projects that are of significance to the Canadian poultry industry, but may not fit into the broad research programs listed above. Researchers may apply for funding for this category of research at any time throughout the year according to the CPRC policy on ad hoc proposals.

While the categories have suited CPRC’s purpose, they do not encompass all those identified in the Strategy that CPRC and industry have put so much effort into developing. The nine Strategy research categories are:

  • Economic viability
  • Genetics
  • Food safety
  • Animal Health Products
  • Poultry health
  • Poultry welfare
  • Environment
  • Functional and innovative
  • products
  • Poultry feedstuffs

The CPRC Board of Directors decided, at its March meeting, to align its categories with those in the Strategy. CPRC will now issue calls for LOIs based on individual categories or groupings of the Strategy categories. Groupings will be of similar types of research and some will closely reflect the categories that CPRC used through 2012. This year’s call for LOIs was for two category groups:

  • Food Safety and Animal Health Products
  • Genetics, Poultry Health and Poultry Welfare

LOIs do not have to address all aspects of each group but can target one or all of the priorities within the group. CPRC’s Board will review this approach at its July meeting as well as set the research categories that will be used for the next several years. This information will be posted on the CPRC website. The ad hoc category will be retained.

Another Change
Many researchers and industry stakeholders have dealt with CPRC through Gord Speksnijder. Gord attended his first CPRC Board meeting in October 2003 and took over as Executive Director from Dave Nodwell a year later. Gord moved into the Research Coordinator role with CPRC in mid-2011 when operations were relocated to Ottawa. Gord has decided to step back from CPRC into an advisory role because of increased demands on his time from the family farm and a growing family. The CPRC Board, member staff associated with CPRC and CPRC staff are sorry to lose the regular input and exceptional advice that Gord has brought to the organization. His unique ability to view research from the point of view of a trained researcher and active farmer has been an asset that will be sorely missed. We wish Gord and his family all the best in their future endeavours.

CPRC Board
The CPRC Board of Directors is appointed each year by its Member Organizations and consists of one representative from each of the five members. The 2014 CPRC Board was reappointed without change at the Annual General Meeting in March. Information on Board members and CPRC activities is available in its 2013 Annual Report posted on the website.

For more details on any 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, email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit us at www.cp-rc.ca. n

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 New Technology

April 15, 2014 - A century ago, over half of Canada's population was farmers. Today, it's down to two per cent - with most people more than three generations removed from their farming ancestors. This shift has meant that most Canadians have lost touch - people often don't understand how their food is grown or how agriculture has changed.

Farm & Food Care Ontario (FFC), as the first coalition of its type in Canada, brings together tens of thousands of livestock, crop and horticulture farmers and related businesses with a mandate to provide credible information on food and farming in Ontario.

In order for FFC to stay in touch with both farmers and consumers, it is important to know what consumers (and farmers) are thinking. As such, the organization works with Ipsos marketing to create benchmarks and ensure that work is being done in the right areas.

"We integrated two studies that bring attitudes together from the consumers point of view and the producers point of view," says Bruce Kelly of FFC. "What we did differently [this time] when we went to the consumers, was instead of just asking them how they feel about animal welfare or about the environment, we put those in context of some of the greater social issues.

"For example, we asked 'How do you feel about the environment compared with paying the mortage? How do you feel about animal welfare in relation to food affordability?' And this has given us a much better context and insight. Food has to be economical for the people who buy it and generate a good return for the people that produce it."

For this study, Ipsos chose to use qualitative study groups rather than internet polling, as it allows them to meet the consumers/producers involved and engage with them at a more basic level. It also allowed Ipsos staff to sit back and watch a discussion unfold without much prompting thus allowing for the collection of key words that seemed to be used often in connotation with agriculture.

The research found that animal welfare and the environment are "higher order" concerns that emerge once food safety, affordability and health needs are met. Subjectively, it appears that farmers are more open to discussions relating to environmental practices, and view their role as stewards as part of the long-term sustainability of the operation.

Additionally, the study found that although consumers say animal welfare is less important than other factors, it represents significant risk due to the strong, negative emotional impact that neglect/abuse can have on consumers – perhaps more so than any other principle.

Other Key Findings:

  • Adoption of animal care best practices is high (83 per cent). However, a sginficiant number of Ontario livestock farmers (39 percent) are lower adopters of animal care best practices.
  • Adoption of environmental best practices is relatively high (71 per cent). However, a significant number of Ontario farmers (45 per cent) are lower adopters of environmental best practices.
  • There is room for improvement in a number of areas, however the biggest area for improvement are Codes of Practice/staff training, biosecurity and resource planning as it relates to environmental best practices.
  • Understanding the drivers and barriers to implementing animal care best practices will help to shift lower adopters to become higher adopters. Key drivers and barriers to adoption of animal care best practices revolve around: farmer attitudes; feasibility; awareness and knowledge of best practices; and public image.

More information on the findings can be obtained by contacting Farm & Food Care Ontario at 519-837-1326.

Published in Environment

Back in February the Agricultural Institute of Canada (AIC), commenting on the federal science and technology policy, applauded “the Harper government’s significant investments in science, technology and innovation.”

But, in a very gentle way, AIC Director of Communications, Daniel Kosick, pointed to a shortcoming. “It is important to remember that public support for basic research focusing on long-term advances is also needed,” he said in a release.

Basic research tends to be a tough sell, especially to self-identified “practical people”, which includes many, if not most, businessmen and politicians. They look for concrete developments or advances. The theoretical stuff leaves them cold.

It doesn’t help that those doing basic research can’t point to something concrete that might come from their work. But that isn’t their purpose. They are working to expand knowledge and it’s up to the rest of us to build on that.

An example of this is James Clerk Maxwell’s equations.  These are the foundation of modern electrical and communications technologies. The computer this is being written on, the internet that provided some of the research material, the fancy new light bulb above my head, and even the poultry industry’s new high tech barns rest on the basic research carried out by Maxwell 150 years ago.

If you are getting lost less often than you used to it’s thanks to Albert Einstein. His theory of relativity allows GPS to work. Einstein also provided one of the most profound arguments for basic science. Without basic science, he said, there would be little or no applied science. Without applied science there would be little or no economic or social progress. My take on all of this is that if we don’t provide for the extremely smart people who think for a living the best we can hope for is stagnation. The worst is a repeat of the Dark Ages when centuries of progress was flushed away by superstition and individual aggrandizement in the form of castle building.

But Einstein can speak for himself. In a speech delivered in 1918 to the Physical Society in Berlin, he said many take to science “for purely utilitarian purposes” while others do it to show off their intellect. He continued that if these two groups were all there, there would be no science. It would be like trying to grow a forest with nothing but creepers.

Speaking of his own field of physics and the attempts to discern the general laws that govern everything, “There is no logical path to these laws.” It takes intuition, intense study and reflection, analysis of what is known (or thought to be known) and time.

Einstein knew the value of time. In his 1914 inaugural speech to the Prussian Academy of Sciences he thanked them “for conferring the greatest benefit on me that anybody can confer on a man like myself. By electing me to your academy you have freed me from the distractions and cares of a professional life and so made it possible for me to devote myself entirely to scientific studies. I beg that you will continue to believe in my gratitude and my industry even when my efforts seem to you to yield but a poor result.”

Many today say they believe in science and recognize the need to support it. But the reality differs from the words, especially in this country.  The question is “How is Canada doing?” The most recent OECD figures (which date from 2010) are not encouraging.

The size of the research system as a percentage of GDP ranks behind Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, the U.S. and numerous others. Canada is one of three OECD countries where the annual growth rate of GERD (Gross Domestic Expenditure on Research and Development) was declining.  Canada was in the middle of the pack in the amount of GERD that is publically financed as a percentage of GDP. And it lags most other countries in terms of the growth rate of publically financed GERD.

These figures from the OECD’s stat extracts are, to put it mildly, embarrassing. They reflect a “penny wise pound foolish” mindset, or perhaps a nation that knows the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.

It is past time that we started focussing on the value of science rather than just looking at the cost and sacrificing the future for a few pennies of tax breaks today.

We need people who ask the fundamental questions and seek the answers. We need people who think for a living.  

If you don’t believe it, argue with Albert Einstein.

Published in Nutrition and Feed

Head and feather pecking behaviour in turkeys can escalate to severe pecking and cannibalism under commercial conditions, creating a significant welfare concern and economic loss. What causes this type of pecking, and what can be done to reduce its incidence?

In a review published in the World’s Poultry Science Journal* in December 2013, authors Hillary A. Dalton, Benjamin J. Wood and Stephanie Torrey examined the different types of injurious pecking in turkeys and the factors that may contribute to the behaviour, including environment, genetics and nutrition.

Injurious pecking can be differentiated as three distinct behaviours in turkeys. Head, neck or snood pecking is described as a form of aggression is often used to retain dominance and typically follows a social disturbance. Feather pecking occurs on many different levels, from gentle to more forceful repeated pecking or plucking of feathers on the back, wings and tail of another bird. In its gentlest form, feather pecking is considered as a form of social preening or investigatory behaviour; escalating to more severe feather pecking that involves loss and consumption of plumage and escape behaviour by the victim. If bleeding occurs as a result of feather pecking, the most severe behaviour of cannibalism
often follows.

All three levels of injurious pecking behaviour result in animal welfare and production efficiency issues. While there is no consensus on the cause, injurious pecking behaviour may possibly be traced to a mismatch of the needs of young turkeys to the conditions supplied in a commercial environment. For example, it is possible that the fluorescent or incandescent lighting typically used in commercial settings may distort the appearance of emerging feathers and initiate investigatory pecking.

Toms are more likely than hens to exhibit head pecking behaviour, becoming more aggressive following sexual maturity. In the wild, young birds will head peck as a precursor to developing the skills required by mature birds to establish the “pecking order” in the flock. If this behaviour is learned, is it possible that isolating those individuals with a pecking propensity could help prevent the spread of this behaviour through the flock?

The need to peck is shaped by genetics, environment and nutrition. Current research in turkeys considers head pecking as an act of aggression but it can also represent re-directed foraging behaviour. A lack of environmental stimuli may be a motivator although some research has shown that birds still peck other birds even if foraging material is made available.

Farm management practices that may heighten stress on the birds, such as poor ventilation, inappropriate humidity,
temperature extremes, flies or parasites, high stocking densities, inappropriate lighting, management changes or foot problems may contribute to injurious pecking.

Interestingly, unlike other forms of injurious pecking, the rate of aggressive head pecking in turkeys is affected by familiarity of the birds. Male turkeys will peck unfamiliar individuals in a group as small as four birds.

The presence of numerous confounding variables has prevented meaningful insight into the relationship between genetics and injurious pecking. Has selection for larger, faster-growing birds unintentionally selected for higher rates of aggression? When exposed to similar environments, traditional lines displayed fewer injuries than modern lines, but it is difficult to specifically pinpoint the traits involved.

Pecking behaviour may also arise as a result of a nutritionally unsuitable diet or inappropriate feed form. Studies have shown that turkeys fed a crumble or mash diet versus pelleted, with higher fibre, and provided free choice instead of restricted, spend more time foraging and less time feather pecking.

Beak trimming with infrared lasers immediately following hatching is the current practice used to reduce injurious pecking. While preferable to hot-blade beak trimming, there are still concerns about the procedure being performed without analgesia. It is also possible that beak trimming increases the incidence of feather pecking by increasing frustration in the bird’s physical inability to grasp the feathers.

Lower light intensity is often employed to reduce injurious pecking but it may also lead to eye abnormalities and musculoskeletal disorders; reduced lighting also hinders the detection of injured or lame birds. Removing the snood from toms, another common procedure, can also lead to chronic pain if not done correctly.

As stated in the World’s Poultry Science journal article, “Concern over trading one welfare concern for another has fostered interest in developing less drastic alternatives, such as genetic selection for gentler birds, environmental enrichment, and changes to diet, to reduce injurious pecking in turkeys…With this information it should be possible to design strategies to reduce injurious pecking, to lead to improvements in both welfare and production.”

The researchers are supported through the Canadian Poultry Research Council, Poultry Industry Council, Hybrid Turkeys and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.


*Dalton, H.A., B.J. Wood and S. Torrey. 2013. Injurious pecking in domestic turkeys: development, causes, and potential solutions. World’s Poult. Sci. J. 69:865-876

Published in Welfare

The road from research discovery to commercial application is sometimes long. In the October 2010 issue of the CPRC update, we introduced you to new vaccine technology being developed by Dr. Eva Nagy and her team at the University of Guelph. Since that time, these researchers and the University have been busy refining the technology and working with Avimex Animal Health to bring it to commercial application.


While vaccines are used with great success to protect poultry from a range of diseases, many are not without their drawbacks. Vaccines based on live virus, for example, can sometimes cause symptoms of the disease they are designed to prevent. Killed vaccines are generally safer, but are often less effective. As more is learned about pathogens and the host’s immune responses to them, new vaccine types are emerging that overcome the shortcomings of their predecessors and incorporate features that improve their effectiveness and utility. For example, scientists have identified specific viral proteins that elicit a protective immune response. Inoculating birds with these immunogenic proteins, or “antigens”, eliminates the need for, and associated risks of, using intact virus. The challenge is to find an effective way to deliver these antigens to the body.


The technology, in brief
Dr. Nagy’s team is meeting that challenge by exploiting a virus’ natural ability to deliver genetic information into biological cells. Specifically, the researchers are working with a strain of fowl adenovirus (FAdV-9; a strain that does not cause disease in poultry). Adenovirus particles are extremely small and, compared to a cell, are quite simple. They consist only of a set of genetic instructions (DNA) and a coat of protein that protects the DNA. Adenoviruses do not have the chemical machinery necessary to reproduce themselves. As part of their lifecycle, these viruses attach to a host cell and introduce genetic instructions that trick the cell into producing new virus particles. Nagy’s team engineered FAdV-9 to instead instruct the cell to make specific antigens. These antigens are, in turn, presented to the immune system to elicit the appropriate immune response.

The FAdV-9 system is very powerful and flexible. Using the same biological platform, a wide array of antigens can be produced. Antigens can be co-introduced with proteins that enhance the bird’s immune response. Multivalent vaccines can be produced that simultaneously protect poultry from more than one disease. Additionally, these vaccines can be engineered to allow distinction between birds that were vaccinated and those that were naturally infected by intact virus. Formally known as “Differentiation of naturally Infected from Vaccinated Animals” (DIVA), this feature will be an important component of many commercially viable vaccination strategies in the future.


Commercial application
The key to bringing scientific discoveries to commercial application is to connect research expertise with companies that can take the technology to the marketplace. In Dr. Nagy’s case, this connection was made with the help of the Catalyst Centre (CC), the University of Guelph’s technology transfer and industrial liaison office. The CC works with faculty, staff and students “to protect intellectual property and maximize potential economic, social and environmental benefits.” CC staff connected Dr. Nagy with Avimex and helped navigate issues around intellectual property and technology licensing. Avimex, based in Mexico (there are no Canadian vaccine manufacturers), produces poultry vaccines and pharmaceuticals for poultry and other agricultural species for markets in more than 25 countries. Having done its own due diligence, Avimex is confident that Dr. Nagy’s technology platform will be a success and is working on registration and scaling up production.

Congratulations to Dr. Nagy’s team on their ingenuity and perseverance, and to the Catalyst Centre and Avimex for helping these researchers navigate the long road from idea to marketplace.

Funding for Dr. Nagy’s preliminary work was provided by CPRC in partnership with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Ongoing research was part of the 2010-2013 Poultry Science Cluster, which was funded in large part by AAFC Canada as part of Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. CPRC and a number of industry and government organizations also provided funding for the Cluster.

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


The membership of the CPRC consists of 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 Turkeys

March 19, 2014 - Canadian poultry producers can now access detailed management information for a costly disease in a user-friendly format.

A unique self-guided educational DVD and smart phone accessible website contains information to arm producers with the scientific knowledge they need to manage coccidiosis. The DVD will be distributed with the April issue of Canadian Poultry Magazine. The DVD’s cover will feature a QR code for a complementary website with additional features (www.uoguelph.ca/cocci).

Coccidiosis, caused by the Eimeria parasite, is a common disease for both large and small poultry operations that can impact gut health and performance with a significant economic impact for producers.

The Eimeria parasite is hardy, says Kayla Price, a University of Guelph doctoral student researching coccidiosis management and control, supervised by parasitologist Dr. John Barta. “You can’t easily eradicate it, but you can look at options to manage it.”

Bridging the gap between scientific research and agricultural producers is one of the most important steps in helping producers manage this common poultry disease, says Price.

Vaccination and preventive anticoccidial medications are already being used in flocks, but understanding the basic biology and life cycle of the parasite helps producers to manage it better, says Price. This background also helps producers ask the right questions to, and work more effectively with, their veterinarian, their feed mill and pharmaceutical representatives.

Funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food’s (OMAF) Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT) program, the Poultry Industry Council and members of the poultry industry, the resource brings information together in one user-friendly format.

The resource includes insights and suggestions to small flock and commercial producers for pullet, broiler, turkey and game bird operations, feed dealers, veterinarians, government, academia and industry members, bringing practical on-farm management methods together with scientific research. Producers can access information targeted to their type of operation.

Price wanted the resource to be as comprehensive as possible, with information for as many production systems and control methods as feasible. It also addresses the challenges of Canadian poultry production and climate.

It is important to keep the approach and information as generic as possible and minimize the use of scientific jargon, says Price. “This approach facilitates learning and makes academic research accessible.”

The project committee members include: Price, Pathobiology Department, University of Guelph; Dr. Gregoy Bédécarrats, Animal and Poultry Science Department, University of Guelph; Dr. Michele Guerin, Population Medicine Department, University of Guelph; Dr. Csaba Varga, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food; Kobus Van-Heerden, Ceva Animal Health; Laura Bowers, Poultry Industry Council; and Dr. John Barta Dept. Pathobiology, University of Guelph.

Published in Broilers

The continually increasing growth rate of modern broilers allows each new generation to reach market weight approximately half-a-day faster each year.1  Despite changes in the rate of growth of broiler stocks, the target growth profiles used in broiler breeder feed restriction programs have changed little in past 30 years.2 As the growth potential of broilers continues to increase, the degree of feed restriction required to manage parent stock body weight gains has created a more competitive feeding environment.

Whereas the poultry breeding companies have worked to maintain or even increase rates of egg production and hatchability, achieving these potential results at the broiler breeder farm level on a consistent has been challenging.3 Production of viable chicks ultimately defines success in a broiler breeder operation. Strategic use of feed ingredients and effective feed delivery contribute heavily to this success. The hen diet can be changed in ways that increase embryo viability, support development of the immune system, and at times even influence broiler yield. As these effects can change with hen age, it is important to understand some of the more influential maternal nutritional effects on the broiler offspring. The nutrient composition of the egg is affected by maternal nutrition, body composition, age and strain. These traits, as well as incubation conditions, can affect chick well-being, growth, and immune function. This paper examines some of the key attributes of maternal nutrition and management that can affect broiler chick quality and growth.

Selecting for Growth Affects Body Composition
From the perspective of parent stock managers, modern broiler strains are simply too good at depositing breast muscle. With a propensity to deposit muscle rather than fat, there may not be enough energy stored in the body to mobilize in times of energetic shortage, and as a result broiler breeder hens may have difficulty with early chick quality and long-term maintenance of lay. Carcass fat in feed restricted birds at sexual maturity averages between 12.5 and 15 per cent of their body weight and has been trending downwards.4,5 Apparent reductions in fat content in current stocks are likely a reflection of the increased muscling that has occurred.

How do we grow the bird at an appropriate rate while ensuring the carcass stores are present to support long-term egg production without letting egg size get out of hand? The bird used to be a lot more forgiving. The use of non-traditional feed allocation profiles has shown the large impact of current feeding level on ovarian morphology parameters. Current feeding level can be more important than body weight in its influence on egg production. Thus, there is potential to use feed to manipulate body composition to optimize egg and chick production.


Managing Lifetime Nutrition
By the time sexual maturation begins, managing nutrient intake of the bird is a combination of current feeding level within the context of previous feed allocation decisions. Because current broiler breeder stocks are less able to store fat and grow more muscle when overfed, what the bird consumes today has a much greater impact on productivity than it used to. There is less of a buffering effect from fat stores, and the bird must rely more on protein stores and on dietary nutrients. If the energy needs of the birds have been met today, the right signals proceed between the gut, the brain, and the reproductive organs to maintain a high rate of productivity. When too much is fed, additional nutrients are first shunted towards growth. When not enough is fed, cuts to reproduction now tend to be first on the list.

In previous trials we have noted that at the end of lay (approximately 60 wk of age) there is less fat and ovary mass in birds carrying a higher proportion of breast muscle. However, while examining this relationship more closely in a recent study, we noted that while breast muscle weight was negatively correlated with abdominal fatpad weight (r = -0.735; P < 0.0001), neither were correlated with ovary weight (Renema, unpublished data). In this study comparing various dietary energy:protein ratios, we found that birds were able to shift the balance  from skeletal muscle to egg production to some extent. While the hen can use both carcass fat and protein as energy sources, the metabolic priority is to maintain protein, and hens will catabolize their own muscle tissue only as a last resort.  A bird with more carcass fat is better equipped to tolerate day-to-day changes in feed availability.

Ekmay et al. (2010) worked with isotope-labeled lysine and found that while early in lay there is a high reliance on skeletal muscle turnover for egg formation, later in lay the reliance on dietary protein increases. In contrast, fat to support yolk formation comes primarily from lipid synthesis early in lay, but shifts to a more even division between lipid synthesis, dietary lipids and tissue fat later in lay.6 Support of the ovary appeared to be more closely tied to dietary energy level during the laying phase, with both ovary and liver weights being higher when a higher energy ration was fed (Renema, unpublished data). A bird with more carcass fat could be better equipped to tolerate day-to-day changes in feed availability.

In the broiler breeder research program at the University of Alberta we have recently confirmed that feeding in the pullet phase has a more long-term effect on productivity than previously thought. Basically, feeding program, feed restriction program, and how we follow the body weight targets in the growing phase all have a greater affect on final carcass composition at the end of egg production than the diets fed during the egg production period have. This is partly because muscle deposition is ‘set’ when they are young and frame size is ‘set’ as soon as the reproductive hormones begin to increase during sexual maturation, and these both have carry-over effect into the breeder phase.

In addition, we have found that the change in energy:protein ratio during the transition between rearing and breeding phase can also affect long-term breeding success. It is possible to hurt long-term egg production and even broiler offspring yield based on choice of pullet and layer diets. Moraes et al. (University of Alberta, unpublished data), reported that if the energy:protein ratio decreased between the rearing and breeding phases, broiler offspring yield was negatively affected. As an example, moving from a higher energy ration in the rearing period to a lower energy ration during the breeder period, which results in a drop in the energy to protein ratio, also hurts broiler offspring breast muscle yield and overall carcass yield by approximately 1% (19.8% vs. 20.9% breast muscle) when compared to treatments where the energy:protein ratio remained the same or increased between the rearing and breeder diets (Moraes, unpublished data). The bottom line recommendation is not to overfeed protein when transitioning from rearing to lay.

Low protein in the layer ration may affect gene expression related to breast muscle development in the offspring. This is known as an epigenetic effect. Rao et al. (2009) reported that offspring of Langshan breeders fed 10% vs. 15% CP diets had heavier breast muscle by 4 wk of age. Offspring of the 10% CP hens had an up-regulated expression of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-I) and type 1 insulin-like growth factor receptor (IGF-IR) mRNA in the breast muscle. IGF-I is a regulator of bird metabolism and muscle development and increased expression of IGF-I will result in increased breast muscle.8 Our observation that pullet phase nutrition had more influence on broiler offspring than the nutrition during the laying phase (Moraes, unpublished) supports the idea that there may be an
epigenetic effect.

Who Benefits from High Flock Uniformity?
Good body weight uniformity in the pullet flock is one of the ways we can increase the predictability of the response of the pullet flock to both photostimulation and the slightly more aggressive feed changes associated with the sexual maturation period. While not perfect due to the existence of plenty of bird:bird variability in feed intake and growth patterns, uniformity can help to ensure we are over- or under-feeding as few birds as possible as egg production starts and subsequently when post-peak feed reductions are imposed. The bird:bird weight variability can have a behavioural component, with some birds eating more aggressively than others, and an energetic efficiency component. Small birds in particular are often found to be less energetically efficient. Less efficient hens have a higher regulatory thermogenesis, resulting in the loss of more energy as heat.9 If these less efficient birds also get behind in body weight compared to their flock-mates, they will often also mature later, and with less robust ovarian development than their larger flock-mates.

What happens to the ovary development and egg production traits of the outlier pullets if their growth profile is allowed to continue in parallel to the target flock body weight curve? To test this we randomly divided pullets from all over the flock body weight distribution onto BW target profiles either at target or 150 g above or below target. For the offspring, the biggest impact of modifying BW targets was with egg size and subsequent chick size. No egg production traits were affected and all broiler trait differences could be explained by the treatment affects on egg size (Renema, unpublished data).

A common assumption regarding flock body weight management is that productivity will be maximized if body weight uniformity is high – with the ideal case being that all birds had the exact same body weight. To test this, we maintained a group of broiler breeder pullets on a common feed allocation, or individually managed birds from 16 wk of age to all be at the target body weight. Body weights of individually managed birds had a very good uniformity (CV=1.9%) from 20 to 60 wk of age compared to the group-fed birds (CV=5.4%). With the larger birds, egg size will be an issue.

Decreasing body weight of heavier pullets from 16 wk to reach the target weight did not significantly affect their egg production. However, a very pronounced effect was found when underweight pullets were forced to the target. These birds produced as much 15 total eggs more than control underweight hens (Figure 1). The problem, for Canadians at least, was that 11 of these 15 eggs were lighter than 52 g – the threshold for incubation. It is clear that improving the body weight profile of underweight birds have the potential to significantly improve broiler breeder productivity.

 chart1 poultry april14


Figure 1. Total egg production of hens of a High,
Standard, or Low initial BW (at 16 wk of age) following
a standard, group feed allocation or individual feed allocations to hold each bird right on the flock BW target. Only Low birds were significantly affected by the feeding treatment, with the additional feed provided to the Low-Individual birds triggering increased egg production.



The increased egg production results for the low efficiency birds fits with hormone profile work of underweight pullets during sexual maturation. In this work, pullets beginning 20% lighter than the flock mean will mature more slowly than standard pullets or 20% heavy pullets unless they are given a 20% boost in their feed allocation. Plasma estradiol-17b concentrations demonstrated that ovary development in the overfed small pullets was proceeding like that of their standard and high weight counterparts.

Feeding the entire flock at a higher level would result in overfeeding in the Standard and High weight birds.10 At some point the practice of sorting small birds into a separate area and feeding them either without competition from larger birds or possibly at a higher level may become cost-effective to consider. From a management perspective, correcting the body weight profile of higher weight birds has no impact on flock productivity while correcting the weight of the underweight pullets did have a positive impact on overall productivity -- provided the mean body weight of the population is under control, i.e. close to the body weight target.

To truly see the impact of a tight uniformity, a treatment like this should be started at a much younger age to eliminate biases that might be introduced by early growth profile. Careful attention to feeder space and even initiating a sorting program during the pullet phase can help generate a group of birds with uniform BW going into the breeder house. With females maturing within a shorter age range today, there may be fewer issues with male intimidation of females that are not yet receptive to mating. This can contribute to a more stable, long-term sexual behavior in the flock.

A flock that has high body weight uniformity values coming into lay may not continue this way. Within a hen population some hens lose weight in time – often as a result of a high rate of lay, while some gain weight due to a poor rate of lay. However, other groups exist within the population that can both gain weight and produce large numbers of eggs, or do the opposite (Renema and Zuidhof, unpublished data). As a result, the average weight birds at the end of lay include the best layers of the most energetically efficient birds (lost weight), the worst layers of the least energetically efficient birds (gained weight), and the average layers of the average efficiency birds (remained average weight throughout). As a result of this variability, later in the egg production period it is much easier to interpret the relationship between male size, appearance and reproductive effectiveness than it is for the females.

How has Genetic Change Impacted Flock Management?
Egg Size: Genetic selection programs in table egg stocks compared to broiler stocks have affected reproductive traits differently. In laying hens, earlier maturation and higher rates of lay have led to potential skeletal issues due to the challenge of maintaining support for shell formation. While increasing egg size with age is an issue in both laying and broiler breeder stocks, in table egg production this is much easier to manage using nutritional tools. Unfortunately in broiler breeders, once you move beyond methionine and start reducing various combinations of choline, folic acid, and vitamin B12 that can work well in laying hens), you are reducing micro-ingredients essential for broiler hatchability.11

A general uneasiness to commit to a defined post-peak feed withdrawal program in broiler breeder flocks could be largely responsible for current issues with large egg size in older broiler breeder flocks. Issues with late egg weight within the breeding companies may not be the same as what is faced on commercial farms. Under conditions of overfeeding, egg weight was much more responsive in commercial strain crosses than in pure lines (Figure 2).

 eggweight figure 2

Figure 2. Egg weight of pure lines (1 to 4) or of commercial and experimental strain crosses (5 to 8) fed a standard ration (R) or overfed 20% from placement in the layer barn (OF)


The egg can be affected very quickly by fluctuations in feed intake. There is a short term effect of changes to feeding level on egg size, for example. The albumen content reacts to changes in energy intake immediately, while yolk size is slower to respond. Unfortunately, the yolk tends to only trend upwards in size. A reduction in rate of lay means the hen has more yolk material available to spread across fewer yolks, thereby increasing egg size. As a result, the most effective approach to controlling egg size is still to maintain as high as possible a rate of lay later in production.

In contrast to table egg laying hens, broiler breeder hens lay at a lower rate and have a higher body mass – both of which contribute to less stress on calcium supplied by the diet or skeleton. The shell quality issues that have appeared in some flocks after 40 to 45 wk of age can typically be easily remedied by the supply of some large particle calcium. There may be a feed formulation or diet density trigger in flocks where shell issues appear. We have recently begun to see examples of shell quality issues confined to specific feeding treatments with no obvious reason for the shell quality differences among groups.

Can feed restriction be relaxed and birds allowed a less restrictive growth profile? In a comparison of a range of both pure lines and commercial lines, providing 20% extra feed reduced productivity and shell quality (Table 1). On average, egg production was reduced by 12.5 eggs (8.3%) under these conditions. This is in contrast to underfed birds, which we have shown will cease egg production all together with just a 9% drop in feed allocation (86% vs. 63% of birds still in production at 65 wk in Control and -9% groups) (Renema, unpublished). In time of energetic stress, reproduction is one of the first things the bird will sacrifice – instead diverting nutrients to maintenance and survival.

 table 1 poultry apr14


A flock can transition from being on the target body weight profile to overweight over just a few weeks time – often as the birds reach peak production and ‘overshoot’ the weight targets. As the birds are transitioned from feed increases during sexual maturation to post-peak feed decreases, they grow more energetically efficient. This same phenomenon occurs during the transition onto feed restriction from full feeding in the first few weeks after breeder chick placement. As these hens are able to utilize the feed more efficiently in the short term, the initial feed withdrawals may not be as effective as hoped, leading to the hens getting too heavy.    

In warm environments, overweight birds can be the result of not compensating for the higher barn temperature with a lower feed allocation. As long as the feed is formulated to ensure adequate supply of the micro-ingredients on a daily basis, focusing on a body weight target rather than a feeding program can help ensure body weight does not become excessive.

Lighting: The majority of research on daylength and light intensity has occurred in laying hens.  At current commercial light intensity levels, we have not been able to demonstrate any significant effects on reproductive traits. Concerns with high light intensity in broiler breeder barns has so far proven to be of little consequence. However, the results we have seen demonstrate that ovary development is affected in extreme cases (particularly low light intensity), demonstrating that these effects should continue to be monitored.

New LED lighting systems have the potential to be produced with very specific blends of light wavelengths. New lights are being produced that have claims of encouraging more efficient growth, for example. This is presumably achieved in part through behavioral modification, as evidenced by anecdotal reports of ‘calmer flocks’. Some red light will always be necessary to support reproduction since these wavelength have the greatest ability to penetrate through the feathers and skull to the light-sensitive neurons associated with gonadotrophin producing neurons. Too much red light has anecdotally been shown to cause undesirable behaviour aviary-housed laying hens, demonstrating it is important to work with companies familiar with how their products have been tested in agricultural environments.

Fertility: Assessing flock fertility comes down to one main theme – if you don’t have mating, you won’t get fertile eggs. A good female flock can come out just average for chick production if the males have been ineffectively managed.  While there are some nutritional components to male fertility (antioxidants and minerals like Zinc, Choline and Selenium that contribute to both sperm production and sperm survival in the female reproductive tract), reproductive behavior of the flock must be managed appropriately to maintain long-term flock fertility.

Heavy birds are an issue, as it can impact physical traits such as footpad condition and cause pain. If the male is sore, the last thing it wants to do is mate, and if it is mating it will be much less successful at it. Rapid declines in flock fertility are often due to insufficient bodyweight control. Hocking et al. (2002) reported that feed restricted and overfed hens have similar fertility when provided a similar semen source, but overfed hens have a reduced hatchability due to an increase in late embryonic death. Duration of fertility (measured by monitoring fertility in consecutive eggs) is also reduced under conditions of overfeeding.13 Nutritionally, too much protein is bad for yolk membrane strength and embryo survival. Underfeeding hens, while being potentially detrimental to rate of lay, does not appear to hurt fertility or hatchability.

Many aspects of mating and dominance behavior cross the boundaries of breed. We can learn a lot from table egg laying hens reproduction and even from wild poultry species. Female preferences for dominant males can be problematic in flocks with heavy males. Modern broiler stocks have been selected for a shorter, wider-legged stance to support rapid broiler growth. In the breeder, shifts in body conformation have the potential to affect how well the male and female are able to make sexual contact during the act of mating in heavy flocks. The behaviour of these birds suggests they think it was a completed mating when no semen transfer occurred. As this likely affects mostly older, heavily muscled males, this could become a criterion for male culling. Unlike underweight males who may express less sexual behavior due to decreased testicular mass and testosterone production, these large males are often still perfectly functional, and only serve to disrupt mating activity of subordinate males. Flock fertility results don’t show which males are working and which ones are lame, too big, or just sore enough in the feet and leg joints to not want to bother to mate. Managing flock fertility requires spending time observing flock mating activity and assessing all males for potential culling. The best males in the younger flock could be the ones causing the most trouble in the older flock if they are not able to complete matings.

Conclusions
The broiler breeder of tomorrow will require a higher degree of precision in its feeding. Increasing vigilance is needed in the areas of feed composition and maintaining consistent body weight gains through careful decisions about how much and how often to change feed allocations. Extra attention to detail can make it possible to change body weight targets, but make sure the intended consequences actually do occur rather than negative unintended consequences. Effective management of these flocks needs to ensure managers are able to deliver the right nutrition to the bird WHEN they need it. Using this approach can enhance late egg production, control egg size and contribute to improved embryo survival and even broiler yield traits. The ability to think of daily nutritional decisions in a broiler breeder operation within the context of the entire life history of the flock will become a more important aspect of broiler breeder management and feeding.

References

  • 1. Havenstein, G. B., Ferket, P. R., and Qureshi, M. A. (2003). Poultry Science 82:1500-1508.
  • 2. Renema, R. A., Rustad, M. E. and Robinson, F. E. (2007a). World’s Poultry Science Journal 63:457-472.
  • 3. Laughlin, K. F. 2009. ‘Breeder management: How did we get here?’ pp 10—25 in: Biology of Breeding Poultry. Poultry Science Series Vol. 29. P. M. Hocking ed. CABI. Wallingford
  • 4. Renema, R. A.,  Robinson, F. E. and Zuidhof, M. J. (2007b). Poultry Science, 86: 2267-2277.
  • 5. Yu, M.W., Robinson, F.E., Charles, R.G. and Weingardt, R. (1992b). Poultry Science, 71: 1750-1761.
  • 6. Ekmay, R. D., Salas, C., England, J., and Coon, C. N. (2010). Poultry Science 88(Suppl 1): 84.  
  • 7. Rao, K., J. Xie, X. Yang, L. Chen, R. Grossmann, and R. Zhao. 2009. British Journal of Nutritions, 102:848-857.
  • 8. Duclos, M. J. 2005. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology,  56:25-35 (Suppl. 3).
  • 9. Gabarrou, J.F., Geraert, P.A., Francois, N., Guillaumin, S., Picard M. and Bordas, A. (1998). British Poultry Science, 39: 79-89.
  • 10. Renema, R. A., and Robinson, F. E. (2004). World’s Poultry Science Journal, 60: 511-525. Goerzen, P. R., Julsrud, W. L., and Robinson, F. E. (1996). Poultry Science 75:962-965.
  • 11 Keshavarz, K. (2003). Poultry Scien 82:1407-1414
  • 12. Hocking, P. M., Bernard, R., and Robertson, G. W. (2002). British Poultry Science 43:94-103.

  • 13. Goerzen, P.R., Julsrud, W.L., and Robinson F.E. (1996). Poultry Science 75:962-965
Published in Eggs - Breeders

A number of poultry industry groups are using a less costly method to collect avian influenza virus samples, thanks to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists.

At the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory (SEPRL) in Athens, Ga., scientists conduct studies not only to identify various avian influenza virus strains, but also to determine their origin and whether current tests and vaccines are effective against them. In addition, the scientists investigate the best methods for collecting virus samples from poultry for testing.

In the United States, all meat chickens and turkeys must be tested for avian influenza before processing. Sample collection is an important component of this process.

A certain number of swab samples, taken from inside the birds’ mouths, are needed per flock to get a reasonable virus sample, according to microbiologist Erica Spackman, who works in SEPRL’s Exotic and Emerging Avian Viral Diseases Research Unit. The current method used to determine if virus is present works well, but requires placing only one to five swab samples in a tube.

Spackman found that improvements could be made by switching the type of swab used and increasing the number or swabs in each tube.

“One of the most important variables is the number of swabs required—the sample size we take from inside the mouth of the chicken or turkey to see if the virus is there,” Spackman says. “We need to collect a certain number of swab samples per flock to get a reasonable virus sample.”

Swab samples are collected from the same flock and put into tubes for testing. Traditionally, each tube contains 1-5 swab samples. The idea was to determine whether more swab samples could be pooled together into a single tube without inhibiting or affecting the sensitivity of the test.

Spackman found that putting 1, 5, or 11 swab samples in the same tube did not affect testing. A similar experiment with Newcastle virus samples had the same results.

This research, which was published in BioMed Central Veterinary Research in 2013, supports the USDA’s priority of promoting international food security.

ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency.

 

Published in Health

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