May 11, 2015 - University of Illinois economists take an in-depth look at the 2014/2015 avian influenza outbreak (U.S. data only).  READ MORE 

Published in Turkeys

May 7, 2015, Calgary - A breakthrough innovation in enzyme technology is breathing new life into the ability of swine and poultry operations to get the most “bang for bite” possible from feed rations.

Multi-carbohydrase technology – now widely available in the latest Superzyme feed enzyme series from Canadian Bio-Systems Inc. (CBS Inc.) –  is designed to deliver higher nutritional extraction from a wide range of animal feeds including corn, soybean meal, wheat, barley, oats, canola meal, flax, peas and distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS).

Particularly effective with young animals, swine trial data results show 11 percent improvement in average daily gain and 15 percent improvement in feed conversion ratio for newly weaned pigs (multi-carbohydrase vs. untreated control). Poultry trial data results show 2.7 percent improvement in body weight gain and 3.2 percent improvement in feed conversion ratio (multi-carbohydrase vs. untreated control, using corn-soy diets).

This adds value to feed, reduces potential waste and presents a new way to gain a competitive advantage and enhanced profitability, says Dr. Bodgan Slominski, head of a long-standing research program in Western Canada that investigates the potential of novel feed ingredients.

“Multi-carbohydrase technology represents the leading-edge of our science-based knowledge on the most effective use of feed enzymes,” says Slominski. “It leverages what we have learned from many years of research to offer a much more comprehensive and sophisticated option than traditional approaches.”

CBS Inc. has funded and partnered in pioneering research on multi-carbohydrase technology to drive this concept forward. This has included numerous key studies directed by Slominski as part of his program at the University of Manitoba, recognized as one of the leading programs of its kind in the world. This research received the Synergy Award for Innovation from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada as well as the National Research Council Award for Innovation in Industrial Research.

This base of science is providing the foundation for a new wave of multi-carbohydrase technology products, led by Superzyme – “the original multi-carbohydrase.”  A flexible platform for use with a variety of swine and poultry diet formulations, Superzyme is becoming widely available for 2015 through expanded distribution in the U.S., Canada and more broadly internationally, say Rob Patterson, Director of Technical Services with CBS Inc.

“The multi-carbohydrase technology embedded in Superzyme is different from other ‘NSP’ enzymes and ‘enzyme cocktails," says Patterson. “This technology utilizes multiple unique enzyme strains that express multiple activities, as opposed to blending single-source enzymes together. Theses enzyme activities are painstakingly identified, researched and developed to ensure they complement one another seamlessly and deliver a high level of both individual and synergistic benefits.”

A new website,, offers a valuable resource for industry to learn about the multi-carbohydrase approach. It includes an overview of the Superzyme product, where it fits in the history and evolution of enzyme technology, step-by-step details on the fermentation process, information on competitive advantage benefits, and contact information for sales and support. An extensive technical summary is also available.


Published in New Technology


"The fact is that if we don’t learn how to recycle nutrients and water, we are doomed. We will start dying off from hunger. This is just one approach to prolong our existence on this planet.”

That ominous warning comes from Nick Savidov, senior research scientist at the Bio-Industrial Opportunities Branch of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (AARD).

By recycling nutrients and water, he means extracting the valuable nutrients from waste streams like poultry manure by using microorganisms in an oxygen-rich environment within a device called a bioreactor to mineralize and dissolve the nutrients in a liquid solution. The nutrients can then be re-used as plant food. Savidov describes this as a sustainable approach to agriculture that could help save humanity from starvation down the road.

Tapping into this source of organic fertilizer from aerobic bioreaction is critical to continued human life on Earth, says Savidov, because current synthetic fertilizer sources are non-renewable. For example, he says that according to the most recent survey by the International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC), 85 per cent of all phosphorus rock reserves on the planet, which are used to produce phosphorus fertilizers are located in just one area - in Morocco and the Western Sahara. Also, current nitrogen synthetic fertilizers can only be produced using non-renewable fossil fuels. Sources of synthetic fertilizers now in widespread use are a finite resource that will eventually run out. Nutrient and water recycling to capture these same nutrients from animal waste streams offers hope to feeding humanity in future.

He is working with an AARD research team, which includes engineer and system designer, Marc Legault, to demonstrate the use of an aerobic bioreactor to mineralize nutrients from raw poultry manure. They used the dissolved organic fertilizer, called  “digestate” to grow market garden vegetables and tree seedlings in a soil-less growing environment. So far, the results have been highly successful.

For example, seedlings of lodgepole pine and white spruce fed with this mineralized organic nutrient stream, “doubled in height after two months. The results exceeded all our expectations,” says Savidov.

The organic fertilizer was also used to grow greenhouse tomatoes, and a 15 per cent higher yield was achieved versus use of synthetic fertilizer because of enhanced nutrient uptake by the plants.

“We demonstrated that we can produce vigorous growth of major nursery crops grown in Alberta and B.C., using poultry manure digestate,” says Savidov.

It is common practice right now to grow market garden vegetables and tree seedlings in greenhouses that use no soil, where the plant roots are immersed in liquid environments and fed computer-controlled, metered amounts of synthetic fertilizers to promote growth. But these Alberta researchers want growers to consider using mineralized organic fertilizers extracted from animal waste instead of synthetic fertilizers because it is a more sustainable form
of agriculture.

What’s different and proving more beneficial by using recycled organic fertilizers instead of synthetics is that they are biologically active with beneficial microorganisms. In addition to exceptional growth over a short period of time, the tree seedlings also experienced enhanced root biomass development, robust health such as better resistance to root pathogens, and improved nutrient uptake, meaning that they experienced exceptional growth in low nutrient solutions. In other words, growers can use small amounts to achieve big results, which could be a huge economic benefit. Furthermore, the water used in these soil-less growing systems is recycled so that there is less pollution released to the environment, and the grower achieves greater water use and nutrient uptake efficiencies.

Researchers chose to work with poultry manure as their raw material because it was readily available, rich in nitrogen, and less fibrous than cattle manure, which because of its fibre content, takes longer to ferment. The processed poultry manure resulted in organic fertilizer with low sodium content, which can be toxic to plants in higher concentrations, and pH within the tolerable range for plants.

Savidov emphasizes that whether it is synthetic fertilizers or this type of organic fertilizer, the nutrients have to be mineralized so they can be used as plant food. He adds that what’s new about this process versus the common practice of creating organic fertilizer by composting manure is that this aerobic bioreaction conversion process is much faster -- taking two to three weeks versus three months to a year with composting. Also, this method results in 100 per cent conversion of the raw manure to valuable, liquid plant food versus composting or the other commonly known method of converting animal manure to organic fertilizer — anaerobic digestion. This is the process of converting manure to organic fertilizer and biogas in an oxygen-free environment.

The researchers’ goals were to prove that it is possible to create a liquid, biologically-active, organic fertilizer from raw animal manure using their aerobic fermentation method and that plant response from this organic fertilizer in a soil-less growing environment is as good as or better than the use of synthetic fertilizers.

Savidov says it is possible to extract valuable nutrients using their bioreactor system from all forms of animal manure or other food and agriculture by-products but they started with poultry manure. Ultimately, converting manure to a liquid nutrient stream using their bioreactor technology could represent a new income stream for farmers like poultry producers, as well as a non-synthetic, biologically active, fertilizer source for growers. The conversion process also produces heat, which can be used to heat poultry barns.

An aerobic bioreactor is not expensive, space-age technology. It is easily achievable, relatively inexpensive technology. The bioreactor is simply a septic tank with a built-in agitator. Oxygen and water is added to the tank along with the manure to create a slurry. Intense mixing within the tank is critical to maintain consistent fermentation. Savidov says there is no odor during the reaction process, except when the raw manure is added because oxygen reacts with common odor-causing compounds like hydrogen sulfide. Because all components within the raw manure will completely mineralize over different time intervals, there will be some solid material left in the liquid outfeed stream after three weeks. After about three weeks, the bioreactor is stopped and the processed liquid is removed to a filtration tank. The solids are separated from the liquid and returned to the bioreactor for further fermentation, while the liquid stream is ready for use as organic fertilizer.

“To be honest, it’s not really an absolutely new system,” says Savidov. “It’s using bits and pieces of what is already used in the agriculture industry for manure treatment.” He adds that greenhouses and nurseries would have to change very little to convert from synthetic fertilizer use to this type of organic fertilizer.

The researchers hope that aerobic fermentation of animal manure into organic fertilizer will become a common practice, either on farms, by commercial organic fertilizer producers, or directly at greenhouses or tree nurseries. It is currently used in some parts of Europe to treat cattle manure.




Published in Housing

April 13, 2015 - A simple and effective portable tool to predict avian flu outbreaks on farms
has been created by University of Guelph researchers.
U of G researchers devised a real-time way to analyze chickens and other farm birds for avian flu. The tool uses a small blood sample and relies on a simple chemical colour change to see not only whether a chicken has avian flu but also what viral strain is involved.
Current tests require samples to be sent to a lab, where it can take eight hours to a couple of days to yield results. That's too long, said Prof. Suresh Neethirajan, School of Engineering.
"Treatment, especially when dealing with humans who have been infected,needs to start as soon as possible," he said. "This test only needs two to three minutes to incubate, and then you get the
results immediately. Not only that, but it is more cost-effective. Conventional techniques are time-consuming and labour-intensive, and requirespecial facilities and expensive laboratory instruments."
A study about the device will appear in an upcoming issue of the scientific journal Sensors, published by Molecular Diversity Preservation International (MDPI).
Last week, Canadian officials placed eight farms in southern Ontario under quarantine after an avian influenza outbreak caused the sudden deaths of thousands of birds over several days.
Preliminary testing on the strain was conducted at U of G's Animal Health Lab.
An outbreak of avian flu also took place in Canada in January and December of 2014.
Neethirajan and post-doctoral researcher Longyan Chen wanted to create a test that could be used by anyone, even a non-scientist. 
"That is why we designed it so that the final colour changes based on what type of influenza it is, and it can differentiate between a human strain and a bird strain," said Neethirajan.
"It's critical to get out front of any outbreaks. There are many strains, and we need to know the source of the flu. The identification of the strain determines what treatment options we should use."
The device uses gold nanoparticles (microscopic particles) and glowing quantum dots. The researchers developed a novel approach for rapid and sensitive detection of surface proteins of viruses from blood samples of turkeys.
The new nanobiosensor can detect the strains of H5N1 and H1N1. The most recent outbreak was from H5N2, which is similar to H5N1, Neethirajan said. With some architecture modifications, the developed biosensing technique has the potential to detect the H5N2 strain as well, he said.
The subtype H1N1 is human adapted while most H5 are avian oriented, Neethirajan added.
"We're creating a rapid animal health diagnostic tool that needs less volume of blood, less chemicals and less time. We will be able to determine, almost immediately, the difference between virus sub-strains from human and avian influenza."

Published in Turkeys


As consumers, retailers and the broader community continue to demand movement towards housing systems that place high value on offering improved behavioural opportunities for hens, it’s important to track measures related to their physical condition. Do the proposed solutions carry unintended consequences? What are the physiological and physical effects of more open housing systems?

As a benchmarking tool, researchers Mike Petrik, Michele Guerin and Tina Widowski have just published a study that gives a snapshot of commercial Ontario brown laying hens in cage and non-cage systems using three welfare indicators: keel bone fracture prevalence, feather scores and cumulative mortality. These three parameters are typically used to reflect some of the physical aspects of the welfare status of the hens.  

Benchmarking welfare indicators from alternative housing systems is important to ensure that progress is made in improving their well-being. This is the first study in North America to compare housing systems on multiple farms as well as providing a more detailed assessment of keel fractures during the life of a flock.

There are 64 farms in Ontario housing brown hens in cages with an average flock size of 9,965, while 27 farms average 9,410 hens per flock in floor-housed systems. For their study, Petrik et al. recruited nine commercial farms that housed brown hens in cages and eight farms using floor systems. Only brown hens were included because there are no white hen flocks housed using floor systems in Ontario at present.

All hens were beak trimmed; caged pullets were grown in caged housing and floor flocks were grown in single-tier floor pullet houses.  All birds were fed a commercial diet that was adjusted to individual flock requirements.

Hens were sampled four times over the course of lay, at 20, 35, 50 and 65 weeks of age. At each visit, 50 hens were weighed and palpated for evidence of healed keel bone fractures. Feather scores were assigned based on evaluation of the neck, back, breast and vent. The daily records maintained by the farmer provided mortality data.

Keel fracture prevalence was significantly higher for the floor housing compared to conventional housing.  As birds neared the end of lay at 65 weeks, the fracture rate was 54.7% compared to 40% for caged flocks. These floor-flock figures were comparable to those for floor birds in Europe (45 to 86%) but the conventional numbers were greater than those reported in conventional cages in the UK (26 to 30%). This might be due to the difference in cage size (483 cm2 in North America vs. 550 cm2 in Europe) that may result in more piling behaviour, or possibly cage design or nutritional factors.

Keel fractures are often attributed to traumatic injury. Five of the eight floor barns in this study had no perches; the researchers suggested that fixed perches were not a contributing factor to the incidence of keel bone fractures in these flocks.  

While most studies evaluate keel fractures at the end of lay, this study points to fractures occurring much earlier in production. In this study, the fracture prevalence increased substantially from 20 to 50 weeks in both floor and cage systems, after which the incidence stabilized. This is a serious concern because fractures occuring early in lay results in a higher potential for chronic pain over the course of production.

Flock-level mean feather score was not significantly affected by the housing system, possibly due to the hens having been beak trimmed. Cumulative mortality tended to be lower (1.29%) for cage housing than floor housing (2.13%), but the figure for floor housing was much lower than in other studies, which have indicated that non-cage systems put hens at a much higher risk for feather pecking, cannibalism and mortality for various reasons. These feather condition and mortality results showed that these Ontario flocks performed really well.

Mean body weight was lower but more uniform in floor housed flocks compared to cage housed flocks, possibly due to a higher activity level and the need to search for feed.  Heavier birds had more fractures, so in a chicken or egg type of question, did heavier birds have more keel fractures because of their weight, or were they heavier because of less activity due to the fracture? Production parameters and behaviour were not evaluated in this study.

More work is indicated to identify specific risk factors and etiology of keel fractures, especially if non-cage housing becomes more common in North America. These findings indicate that younger hens, between 20 and 35 weeks of age, showed the highest incidence of keel bone fractures and should be the focus of future studies.

As the layer industry continues to evolve, the benchmarking of welfare indicators from alternative housing systems from this study will help to ensure that progress is being made to improve the well-being of the hens.

This research was funded by Egg Farmers of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. The researchers would like to thank participating egg farmers in Ontario for allowing access to their flocks and records.




Published in Welfare


Vaccination is one method used to help prevent the spread of infectious poultry diseases, but current vaccines could be safer and more effective.

At the Agricultural Research Service’s Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory (SEPRL) in Athens, Georgia, scientists are developing vaccines to help reduce virulent virus shedding—excretion of virus by a host—and disease transmission from infected birds to healthy ones.

Microbiologist Qingzhong Yu and his colleagues have created a novel vaccine that protects chickens against infectious laryngotracheitis virus (ILTV) and Newcastle disease virus (NDV), two of the most economically important infectious diseases of poultry. Both viruses cause sickness and death in domestic and commercial poultry as well as in some wild birds throughout the world.

“While current ILTV live-attenuated vaccines are effective, some of the viruses used to make them can regain virulence—causing chickens to become chronically ill,” says Yu. “Other types of vaccines can protect birds from the disease’s clinical signs, but barely reduce the virus shedding in their respiratory secretions after infection. Those vaccines are not that effective, because they do not reduce the risk of virulent ILTV transmission to uninfected birds.”

Most vaccines used in the United States are formulated with NDV isolated in the 1940s. However, since then new NDV strains have emerged that are genetically different, according to Yu.

Worldwide, the NDV LaSota strain has been used as an NDV vaccine. “It is very stable and very effective, and there have been no reports of virulence increase,” Yu says.

In previous research, SEPRL scientists successfully used LaSota strain-based viruses to develop vaccines that protect birds against two other poultry viruses—metapneumovirus and infectious bronchitis virus. Now, in a recent study, Yu used reverse genetics technology, which allowed him to generate new vaccines by inserting a gene from the ILTV virus into the NDV LaSota strain.

The new vaccines were stable and safe when tested in chickens of all ages. Experiments involved more than 100 1-day-old Leghorn chickens and 120 3-day-old commercial broilers. All vaccinated birds were protected against both ILTV and NDV, showing few or no clinical signs and no decrease in body-weight gain.

These vaccines worked as well as current live-attenuated vaccines, Yu says. They can be safely and effectively administered by aerosol or drinking water to large chicken populations at a low cost.

“There is a huge market for these types of vaccines because they can protect poultry from ILTV as well as NDV,” Yu says. “Developing a commercial vaccine that provides better protection against disease would have a positive economic impact on the U.S. poultry industry and also make its products—meat and eggs—less expensive for consumers.”

NDV causes disease in more than 250 species of birds and typically causes respiratory, gastrointestinal, and/or nervous system symptoms. The most severe form of Newcastle Disease can result in disease and mortality rates exceeding 90 per cent in susceptible chickens.

The most recent U.S. outbreak, which occurred in 2002-2003 in California, Nevada and Texas, illustrates the devastation and financial cost that can result: more than 3.4 million birds were destroyed, and the cost of controlling the outbreak in California alone was more than $160 million.

ARS has filed for a patent on the vaccine invention, which has generated interest from private companies that are considering using this research to develop commercial vaccines.

This research is part of ARS National Program #103, Animal Health.

"Novel Vaccines Effective Against Poultry Diseases" was published in the March 2015 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.




Published in Broilers

April 6, 2015 - Two senior appointments have been made by Cobb-Vantress to strengthen its research and development team. 

Dr. Anu Frank-Lawale, who has wide experience across a range of species, joins the team as pedigree geneticist, while Dr. Frank Siewerdt moves from this role to become director of genetics responsible for the Cobb genetic program.

Dr. Anu Frank-Lawale is based at the Three Springs pedigree farm in Oklahoma, where he will be responsible for the selection program in several commercial and experimental lines.  He studied animal breeding at the universities of Nottingham and Edinburgh in the UK, and went on to gain a PhD for work on aquaculture genetics at Stirling University. 

He worked as a biometrician at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, and then in 2007 moved to the United States as breeding research manager for the Aquaculture Genetics and Breeding Technology Center at Virginia Institute of Marine Science.  

Dr. Frank Siewerdt now has a team of seven PhD geneticists and a business engineer working with other areas of R&D and the business units to continue genetic progress on existing Cobb products and developing new ones to meet market needs. 

He joined Cobb three years ago as the inaugural geneticist at the new Dry Creek complex in Deer Lodge, Tennessee, and became responsible for the genetic program in two of the pedigree farms.  Originally qualifying from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, Dr Siewerdt obtained his PhD from North Carolina State University in the USA and has worked for more than 20 years in academic and industry positions including four years with Heritage Breeders / Perdue Farms.

Published in Genetics

Birds with certain characteristics are of absolute importance to poultry breeders.  In terms of both broiler and layer flocks, bone development resulting in strong and healthy skeletal structure is of particular interest.  Weak bone formation as a consequence of a developmental imbalance results in significant financial loss to the poultry industry.  Dr. Andrew J. Bendall, a developmental biologist from the University of Guelph has embarked upon a project that aimed to design a new class of research tool to manipulate gene expression in developing embryos, which would allow researchers to  decipher how these genes function in early skeletal development.  Dr. Bendall described the long-term benefit to poultry producers of his research as “identifying genes that could be targeted for selective breeding for improved skeletal development and health”. This research commenced in 2011, with the identification of key regulatory genes that affect skeletal development in the chicken embryo, and subsequently have consequences for adult skeletal function and integrity.  Once this was completed, the researchers were able to develop novel molecular tools that allow disruption or silencing of these gene functions.  These tools were designed to not only silence one gene, and have the potential to silence multiple genes within the embryo. “Development of such tools will be of great benefit to other researchers for further studies in the chicken embryo” says Dr. Bendall.  With respect to current status of their findings, Dr. Bendall explains “We identified multiple sequences that silence genes of interest and are continuing to test their effects in the embryo.”  Once this is completed, they plan to further enhance the molecular tools to allow the silencing of the genes to be performed in a targeted cell type.  Such tools will greatly advance poultry research, as cell type specific manipulation of gene activity has not been achieved in the chicken to date.  “This project represents proof of principle for longer-term functional studies where we investigate embryonic development of the skeleton.”  This project was funded equally by the Poultry Industry Council (PIC) and Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) through the NSERC Collaborative and Research and Development (CRD) grants program.



Published in Researchers


Incubation temperatures for egg embryos may need to be adjusted depending on the age of the broiler breeder flock and the strain of bird.  A study completed by Prof. Doug Korver at the University of Alberta shows that embryos from older flocks produce more of their own heat and if they overheat, embryonic metabolism actually slows down, which can affect early chick quality.

“The metabolism of broiler chickens has changed substantially as they’ve been selected for growth rate and breast meat yield, but incubation time has not,” explains Korver. “Modern embryos tend to produce more heat, and as breeder birds get older, they lay bigger eggs with the potential to produce more heat.”

Korver’s small but intensive study involved two modern commercial strains of broilers, Ross 308 and Ross 708.

Embryos from young breeder birds (26-34 weeks old), mid-production breeders (35-45 weeks old), and older breeder flocks (age 46-55 weeks) were incubated at four different temperature settings: 36C, 36.5C, 37C and 37.5C.

“Because the smaller embryos from younger breeder flocks produce less heat, they may need additional warmth in the incubator, whereas embryos from older flocks may need to be pulled from the hatcher sooner,” explains Korver.

The optimum incubator temperature was found to be 37C; at higher temperatures, the Ross 708 embryos reduced their metabolism to try to avoid overheating, although this wasn’t the case with the Ross 308 strain.

“Chick quality measures like weight and residual yolk sack weight were optimized at 37C,” he says. “In general, we tend to see lower growth rates and poorer performance with higher residual yolk sack weights.”

The study results show that as genetic selection continues, it may become more necessary to target hatcher management based on the age of the breeder birds.

Currently, however, most of the industry uses multi-stage hatchers with embryos from different ages of breeder birds and from different bird strains all going through together, which can make it challenging to tailor incubation conditions for a specific group of eggs.

“As the industry moves to single stage hatchers, it will become more feasible to target incubation to different batches of eggs,” says Korver.




Published in Meat - Turkeys


The CPRC completed its 2014 funding process at the Board of Directors November meeting by providing approval for eight projects that address several poultry industry priorities. Final approval for some projects is based on the researchers securing full funding for their proposed research projects, while other projects are fully funded and ready to begin. The board also awarded the 2014 Postgraduate Scholarship, a difficult task because of the very strong group of applicants.

Genetic Preservation
Carl Lessard, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher located at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) and curator of the Canadian Animal Genetic Resources program, will conduct research on conservation and regeneration of chicken and turkey breeds using adult gonadal tissue. The CPRC has funded a series of projects to examine the potential for cryopreservation of poultry genetic material and this project carries that research program forward.

Poultry Welfare and Behaviour
Three projects address welfare and behaviour issues. Tina Widowski from the Poultry Welfare Research Centre at the University of Guelph (U of G) will evaluate existing and new euthanasia technologies for chickens and turkeys. Karen Schwean-Lardner plans to conduct tests of the impacts of infrared beak trimming on young pullets’ behaviour, water consumption and ability to peck. Martin Zuidhof from the University of Alberta and Gregoy Bedecarrats from the U of G, will cooperate on research to optimize lighting for precision broiler breeder feeding. Zuidhof developed a computerized precision feeder in prior research to ensure optimum broiler breeder weight is maintained to help maximize production.

Immune System Enhancement
Improving the innate immunity of poultry is a major industry priority with the increasing discussion of the use of antimicrobials and potential for increased antimicrobial resistance in animals and humans. Three projects look at methods to improve the poultry immune system. Shayan Sharif from the Ontario Veterinary College at the U of G, will investigate the effect of in ovo delivery of nutrients and feed additives on the development of the chicken immune system.  Susantha Gomis, from the U of S, will continue research previously funded by the CPRC that looks at the use of CpG-ODN to stimulate the innate immunity in poultry. Mohamed Faizal Careem, from the University of Calgary, will test the use of in ovo delivered innate immune-system stimulants to increase resistance to respiratory viruses. This research is also a follow-up to work that the CPRC previously co-funded.

Poultry Health
Screening of birds for disease is used to identify potential outbreaks that could damage a flock or increase risks to poultry production in a region or the country as a whole. Present approaches to testing for exposure to avian influenza for the national surveillance program are based on taking blood samples from birds and sending them to a laboratory for analysis. Kathleen Hooper-McGrevy of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases will evaluate a standardized test to use egg-derived immunoglobin for screening of antibodies to avian influenza to avoid the stress and cost associated with handling layers and taking blood samples.

CPRC Scholarship Award
The CPRC awarded its 2014 Postgraduate Scholarship to Alexander Bekele Yitbarek, a Ph.D. student under the supervision of Professor Shayan Sharif at the U of G. Yitbarek completed his M.Sc. at the University of Manitoba in 2009 and then worked with Juan Carlos Rodriguez-Lecompte as a research technician until 2013. He followed that as a research associate with Nutreco Canada until commencing his studies with Sharif.

Yitbarek’s research will look at poultry immunology and developing a better understanding of the role of different toll-like receptors and cytokines in modulation of the immune system in chickens. His research focus will be mainly in understanding the role of TLR receptor ligands in controlling avian influenza virus.  He will also conduct research on the effect of probiotics as nutritional modulators in the search for the replacement of antibiotic growth promoters in poultry diets.

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


The membership of the CPRC consists of Chicken Farmers of Canada, Canadian Hatching Egg Producers, Turkey Farmers of Canada, Egg Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors’ Council. CPRC’s mission is to address its members’ needs through dynamic leadership in the creation and implementation of programs for poultry research in Canada, which may also include societal concerns.





Published in Researchers

 Finding a way of turning poultry bedding into a valuable resource in a cost-effective way is difficult. But it didn’t stop B.C. Agriculture Research and Development Corporation (ARDCorp), B.C. Sustainable Poultry Farming Group (SPFG), Ritchie-Smith Feeds and Diacarbon Energy, from trying.  The groups optimistically embarked on a trial to turn this material back into fodder.

Anyone who works in B.C.’s poultry industry is aware that a creative, cost-effective disposal solution is required for the excess volumes of used poultry bedding accumulating from the over 100 million chickens and turkeys produced annually. Finding a way of turning this abundance of bedding into a valuable resource is even harder. But that was the goal of the B.C. Agriculture Research and Development Corporation (ARDCorp), B.C. Sustainable Poultry Farming Group (SPFG), Ritchie-Smith Feeds and Diacarbon Energy, who optimistically embarked on a trial to turn this material back into fodder.

Used poultry bedding has been used for centuries as a soil fertilizer. But only so much of the bedding can be used on the land before the nutrients start leaching into the environment, becoming a risk rather than an asset.

With a relatively low moisture content of 30 to 40 per cent, it is possible to transport broiler litter to nutrient deficient areas for land application. However, on average, a tonne of broiler litter contains less than 200 lbs of nitrogen, phosphate and potash, while a tonne of commercial fertilizer contains over 700 lbs. Due to its low nutrient content to weight ratio (when compared to commercial fertilizer), it is often uneconomical to transportation broiler litter over long distances. While this distance depends heavily upon transportation costs and the cost of commercial fertilizer, a good rule of thumb is that broiler litter should be used within 50 to 100 kilometres of the source. For the Lower Mainland, which raises close to ninety per cent of B.C.’s poultry, the current nutrient surplus is a concern. The poultry sector’s quest for a viable alternative to the land application of bedding was the reason for this recent feed study.

In other parts of the world, some success has been achieved with turning used broiler bedding into biochar and adding it to broiler feed, thereby improving the broiler’s feed conversion and increasing final weight. Fueled by the success of others, ARDCorp, the SPFG and the Ministry of Agriculture hoped that through conducting their own experiment, they could create demand for roughly ten per cent of the used broiler bedding in the Lower Mainland; and, at the same time, improve production.

Biochar is made by burning biomass material at extreme temperatures of over 500C in an oxygen-free environment. This process, called pyrolysis (thermochemical decomposition), is a very effective disinfection technique, ensuring that the biochar is free of any possible pathogens.

When applied to soils, the high surface area and porosity of biochar act as a catalyst for plant growth by helping to retain water and by providing a habitat for beneficial microorganisms to flourish.

More recently, there has been interest in how biochar aids in the grinding process and provides a habitat for beneficial microoganisms in the digestive system.  It has been claimed that the consumption of biochar by broilers can increase update of foodstuffs and the energy contained within them.  Increased uptake can thus result in increased weight gain and/or improved feed conversion.

Although the idea of supplementing broiler feed with biochar made from broiler litter may seem strange, it should be noted that processed poultry litter has been used as a feed ingredient for almost 40 years in the U.S.

For this study, used broiler bedding was taken from a commercial broiler barn in the Fraser Valley and dried before being delivered to Diacarbon’s pyrolysis unit in Agassiz. Once processed, the resulting biochar was transported to Ritchie-Smith Feeds in Abbotsford where it was incorporated into commercial starter, grower and finisher broiler feed. The feed was delivered to S.J. Ritchie Research Farms Ltd in Abbotsford for a floor pen study.

The study involved 288 broiler chicks arbitrarily placed into twenty-four specially constructed pens. The chicks in each pen were given feed supplemented with biochar or feed without biochar for 35 days. The broilers were weighed individually once weekly and the weights recorded. All feed was also weighed weekly and any feed remaining in the feeders was weighed back and replaced.

Unfortunately, the hoped-for outcomes of the study did not come to pass. From the results of this study it can be concluded that supplementing broiler feed with broiler litter biochar had no statistically significant impact on broiler weight gain and/or feed conversion (Table 1). While unknown as to why, it could be because of the nutrients in broiler litter; a result of the droppings and spilled feed that gets mixed in with the bedding material. It is therefore possible that the supplementation of broiler litter biochar resulted in the broilers being feed too high levels of certain nutrients. This assumption would go some way to explain the high levels of Sodium (Na) and Chlorine (Cl) found in the litter from T2 and T3 pens (Table 2).

In other studies that have found significant benefits from supplementing broiler feed with biochar, other feedstocks were used to make the biochar; including oak, pine, coconut shells, corn cobs and peanut hulls. It is therefore possible that had an alternative feedstock be used (such as pine instead of broiler litter), supplementing broiler feed with biochar may have been a statistically significant impact on broiler weight gain and/or feed conversion.

Future Opportunities
While the biochar feed study might have ruled out one opportunity, it has opened doors for others. The main objective, after all, is to find sustainable ways of managing used broiler bedding. And if supplementing broiler feed with broiler bedding biochar did not work as expected, then the question should be: where can the industry look next?

Allen James, Chair of ARDCorp, and a member of the SPFG hopes researchers can find a positive way to convert the poultry bedding into energy. “As long as there’s an excess of bedding, we’ll be looking for a solution.” He is hopeful we will find a local solution to our local situation.

Other applications of biochar have proved successful, but perhaps not economically feasible for the Lower Mainland. Biochar has been used as a soil conditioner to improve water retention and nutrient density to aid in the growth of plants and increase yield. Biochar is also considered a superior growing medium in hydroponics, which is a rapidly growing technology. All of these areas could be expanded upon, creating financial opportunities for the poultry industry.

“Many studies have been done in the U.S,” explains James, “but none of them relate to B.C. and our particular situation. We’ll keep pressing on as long as the industry has this situation to deal with.”

For B.C., a new study is planned for 2015 to convert poultry litter into heat and electricity. This project could potentially have positive impacts on both the environment and animal waste management, and be one solution to how we can turn trash into treasure. We will have to wait for the results to come in, and look forward to future projects, which will help answer the burning question.

Any inquiries about this study and requests for details should be directed ARDCorp’s Senior Program Manager Jaclyn Laic (604) 854-4483. 

Funding for this project has been provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture through the Canada-B.C. Agri-Innovation Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C.




Published in Manure Management

March 4, 2015 - Prairie Diagnostic Services Inc. will receive $549,278 from Ottawa for new equipment to "expand and modernize'" its testing efficiency. Brad Trost, MP for Saskatoon-Humboldt, said the funding will help veterinarians, livestock and feed producers and exporters to be able to better ensure Canada's food safety both domestically and abroad. He says the new equipment will help with bacteriology, toxicology, pathology and food testing. The Leader Post reports. 

Published in Health

February 18, 2015 - Dr. Ravi Kulkarni is the new co-ordinator for the Poultry Health Research Network (PHRN). He will use his background and experience in academia and industry to further the PHRN’s objective of establishing a cross-disciplinary network of poultry researchers and health specialists. His research expertise and interests are in poultry health, disease and vaccines. READ MORE 

Published in Researchers

January 23, 2015 - By tracking the genetic footprints of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, researchers funded by the US Department of Agriculture are hoping to shed some light on the extent to which in-feed antibiotics contribute to resistance. READ MORE

Published in Nutrition and Feed

January 8, 2015 - The Poultry Science Association Foundation Board of Trustees has approved guidelines for their first-ever funded undergraduate internship program, the Andrew F. Giesen III Poultry Science Undergraduate Internship. 

This internship is designed to match outstanding life sciences undergraduates interested in exploring career options in poultry science with companies and organizations that produce or are otherwise affiliated with the poultry industry.

This internship award program is designed to attract bright young scientists to learn first-hand how science and technology is applied in solving the challenges of meat and egg production in the modern day poultry industry.

Funding for these internship awards was donated to the PSA Foundation by Giesen's family, friends and Novus International, in memory of his contributions to the industry as a Past President and Fellow of the Poultry Science Association (PSA), Past President of the Federation of Animal Science Societies, and a career-long contributor to the poultry industry as an employee of Novus International, Inc.

Applications will be accepted electronically through the PSA website ( until March 1st for the first set of internships to be awarded in the summer of 2015. Applicants should review the internship award guidelines for directions on how to apply.

Companies and organizations that are interested in being matched with outstanding undergraduates in the life sciences should also review the award guidelines and may contact Jon Cole, PSA Director of Business Operations, at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Published in Researchers


Poultry producers have become interested in being involved in on-farm trials to test research discoveries in a commercial production setting. Although conducting research trials in specialized facilities that mimic commercial circumstances is common, they may not provide the variety of conditions that would be found on commercial farms.

Research is designed to further the poultry industry and ensure its long-term viability, and trials on commercial operations are important to meet those objectives. However, on-farm research trials require compromises on the part of the poultry producer. Risks that may have a negative impact on production or product quality are part of all research. Producers have to be aware of potential production and other risks that might result from a research trial on their farm and discuss how those risks will be managed with the researcher.

Poultry producers commit to an on-farm trial for the length of the research project. Generally, research is conducted by changing one or several normal production activities (such as feed formulation, reduction in antibiotics, etc.) and then measuring how the changes impact the research flock. The research flock is then compared to other flocks that are produced under the farm’s normal method of production (control flocks). Changes in flock management or other production activities (feed formulation, lighting, etc.) cannot be made to either the research or control flocks during the research period without consultation with the researcher. Small production or management changes need to be accounted for in the measurement of research impacts, and significant changes can completely derail the project, leading to wasted money and effort.

Poultry producers who want to take part in on-farm trials can take the following steps to ensure that their experience is positive:

  • Talk to other farmers that have been involved in on-farm research trials. What was their experience? How did they prepare? How was the communication with the researcher? What should they have done differently?
  • Remember that researchers are not commercial poultry farmers. While they may be very knowledgeable about poultry, few will have a good understanding of how a commercial poultry farm operates.
  • Ensure that the research is at an appropriate stage for on-farm trials. Talk to the researcher and industry specialists (provincial poultry specialists, producer organization staff) to make sure that an on-farm trial is the next step in the research process. This strategy will reduce the risk of failure or unexpected production problems.
  • Ensure that communication is “two-way” so that the researcher understands how the project requirements may impact the poultry farm operations and management. Compromises may have to be made by both the farmer and researcher to meet both production and research requirements. Research is a specialized and very structured activity and a producer must have a clear understanding of researcher expectations so potential issues are identified.
  • Make sure that research requirements are clearly understood by management and that staff are aware of their responsibilities to the project.
  • Develop a clear risk-management plan to ensure that problems are identified early, the research team is quickly made aware of a developing problem and the farm business is not unduly damaged if problems occur. The risk-management plan should include details of compensation if the research trials cause negative financial impacts on the farm business.

On-farm research trials are important to proving the value of research discoveries before they are adopted by industry as a whole. Properly designed and managed trials will help industry adopt discoveries quickly and efficiently.

CPRC has begun a consultation process designed to develop recommended guidelines for planning and performing on-farm trials. This effort will involve input from a wide range of stakeholders, including producers, producer organizations, researchers, regulators, statisticians and others. This approach will ensure that potential issues are identified and addressed in the guidelines.

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


The membership of the CPRC consists of the 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 Housing

 The difficulty of measuring feeding behaviour in a large group is overcome with the use of electronic feeding stations. 

One of the challenges with poultry research is that the birds may not respond the same in trial conditions as they do in a commercial setting. So how do we find the turkey that is most efficient under group housing conditions?

Owen Willems, a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph, working under the supervision of Dr. Ben Wood and Dr. Andy Robinson in the Centre for Genetic Improvement of Livestock is trying to do just that.

His area of research is focused primarily on the genetics of feed efficiency and feed behaviour in group-housed turkeys, looking at the correlations between feed efficiency and time spent feeding, number of meals, feeding rate, and daily feed intake. As a geneticist, Willems is ultimately in search of the most efficient turkey, housed in the same large group conditions as it will be raised commercially.

Seventy per cent of the total production costs is feed, said Willems, with most primary breeders selecting for feed conversion values. Under conventional feed trial research, data would have to be gathered on individual birds — weigh the bird, weigh the feed in and weigh the feed out — but that data would not always reflect the behavioural aspects involved with group housing in a commercial environment. In a commercial setting the bird would face competition from other birds for feed and water, while in an individual research pen, a meek bird that would do poorly in a group could still be considered as a good performer.

But how do you keep track of feeding behaviour in a large group? As far as Willems was concerned, other livestock industries, beef, swine and dairy, were using auto feed measurement systems, so why not turkeys?

Picture 320 turkeys in one big pen with 32 electronically monitored feed intake stations, ten birds per station. The birds are all “Large White” toms, from 15 to 19 weeks of age. Attached to the wing web of each bird is a generic RFID tag, similar to those used in the dairy industry. The tags weigh 5.6 grams and cost around two dollars each but the information they provide is priceless.

The birds would enter feeders that are mounted on scales, providing data about their feed intake, duration of feeding and the number of times they fed every day. Willems describes the data collected as “vast.” Some birds preferred the central feeders; some preferred the ones on the sides of the pen. “The system records data from each scale every second and the turkeys are active around 14 hours a day,” said Willems, “giving us the capacity to record about 1.6 million data points a day.”

His data is already being used for both research and commercial purposes. In future, it will provide a large dataset for mining and analysis by subsequent graduate students. For example, Willems suggested that someone could now use the data to look at behavioural and animal welfare considerations, while the commercial application is really about improving the breeding candidates that will then become future generations at the commercial level.

The Poultry Industry Council of Ontario, the University of Guelph and industry partner Hybrid Turkeys provided funding for the project.




Published in Nutrition and Feed

Insects as a sustainable human food source have received a good deal of attention and investment over the last several years.   Less visible are efforts here and abroad to use insects as a sustainable animal feed source. One such initiative is taking place in a commercial sized facility in Vancouver.

Vancouver-based Enterra Feed Corporation is not only unique to Canada; it is attempting to resolve two problems with a single solution by using food waste to create feed protein derived from insects.  They describe it as up-cycling.

By using a food source that is naturally eaten by poultry, Enterra is tackling two major, global problems – wasted food and a growing demand for affordable protein sources.

According to recent reports, more than 30 per cent of the world’s food supply never makes it to the consumer and ends up as disposed waste or compost.  In Canada, over 50 per cent of food waste occurs at the consumer level but 29 per cent occurs at the processing and retail levels amounting to about $7.8 billion a year.

The sharp increase in pre-consumer food waste over the last 50 years is due in large part to increasing consumption of perishable fruits and vegetables and stricter food quality requirements. This is happening at the same time as fish stocks and crop lands are shrinking and as demand for soy and other plant proteins is growing, creating volatile feed supplies and prices for poultry farmers.

The farm and food sector is continuously seeking ways to make their practices more environmentally and economically sustainable.  This is where insect-feed fits in.

According to the company website, Enterra’s  patent-pending hatchery process uses a local beneficial insect to recover nutrients from traceable feedstock.  “We operate an organic, zero-waste system to provide a sustainable supply of high quality nutrients for food production at a stable price, and that also reduces food waste disposal costs for businesses and municipalities.”

This is the way it works.

Enterra takes fruit and vegetable waste from grocers and food processors — including Overwaitea Food Group and Sun Processing — combines it with a small amount of fish trim and waste bread and feeds it to the larvae of the black soldier fly. This common and benign fly is used because it is not a vector for disease and because the female flies are prolific- producing up to 900 larvae eggs during their seven day lifespan.

Known for their voracious appetite, the larvae consume each feeding in just a few hours, so the waste food never has time to decompose and breed pathogens.  

The largely automated,  enclosed hatching facility can take in 100 tonnes of pre-consumer food waste per day or 36,500 tonnes per year.

This produces approximately 5,400 tonnes of larvae, 2,700 tonnes of fertilizer and can recover nearly 20,000 tonnes per year of clean water from the fruit and vegetable feedstock.

After two weeks when they are at their prime, the larvae are cleaned, cooked, dried and ground into meal. The meal is about 60 per cent protein, comparable to soy feed, and, according to the company, suitable for both fish or poultry feed. The larvae castings and spent brood flies are being used as fertilizer by local farmers.

The company calls it “Renewable Food for Animals and Plants™”.

Breeding trials conducted by the EU initiative PROteINSECT have found that one hectare of land could produce at least 150 tons of insect protein per year. By comparison, soy planted over the same area yielded just under a ton of protein and is more resource intensive to grow.  And a 2013 report by the   Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN  suggests that feeding trials with fish and poultry showed that the animals fed insect-feed outperformed those raised on traditional diets.

In September, Enterra announced that it had received additional investor funding to help complete its 56,000-square-foot commercial pilot facility in Langley B.C., expand production and begin selling feed on a commercial scale. This makes Enterra the only large scale commercial producer in Canada although there are many in the research, pilot and start-up stages here in Canada and globally.

Company CEO Brad Marchant says “we have been testing our products with poultry for about two years now — both in Canada and the U.S.  The most recent field testing is being conducted at the University of Saskatchewan as well as an organic poultry farm in Oregon, with very encouraging results and positive response from the farm operators.”

As the company prepares to ramp up commercial production, it has filed for Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) approval to sell its feed products in Canada and is awaiting organic certification for its fertilizer product in Canada.  Marchant reports that Enterra has “been working with CFIA for about two and half years now, to register the product as a novel feed ingredient for poultry and aquaculture.” Adding, “We understand that this is a normal timeline for approval of a novel feed ingredient.”

Currently, the products are being sold in Washington, Oregon and Idaho where the firm has received product approvals. The company is awaiting approval in several other U.S. states.  At the same time, Enterra is working on FDA registration so they can sell to all of the U.S. market rather than just certain states.

When it comes to price, Marchant says it is price competitive with common protein sources such as soy and fish meals. “Based on the nutritional content and digestibility we are priced between premium fish meal and poultry meal.  In some cases, where the advantages of local, consistent supply of a natural protein product are desired, there is a premium paid.”

The company is receiving inquiries from poultry producers and Marchant says, “there seems to be pent up demand for the product as insect larvae are a natural feed source for poultry, and our larvae are grown from traceable feedstock sources. It is really more a case of regulations catching up with product demand.”

If all goes according to plan the company may open hatcheries in Toronto, Seattle or San Francisco.  

Although 1/3 of the world’s population eats insects as a regular food source it will be a challenge to get North Americans to adopt an insect diet.   The next best thing is to use those insects to feed animals we will readily eat. And that poultry will too.



Published in Nutrition and Feed


The public wants to know that birds are being well kept and the poultry industry wants the same, but what does the bird want?

That’s what Dr. Alexandra Harlander wants to know. She is leading a series of poultry behavioural studies at the University of Guelph’s Arkell Poultry Research Center where the birds are having their say.

Poultry producers are under public pressure to provide the best possible environment for chickens, and single- or multi-tier aviary systems may provide commercial options. In these systems, birds can walk and flap and fly – performing species-specific behaviour – but they also seem to have increased risk of bone fractures, particularly keel bone fractures, with 80 percent of birds sustaining injuries while navigating the cages.

Until now, there has been no science behind the locomotor skills of the birds on the ground or in the air, nor has there been any study of the laying hens’ preference for flying or walking. Are pullets and hens of different strains better able to adapt to different heights, angles and arrangements of perches and tiers? Are some genetic lines better able to adapt to alternative housing systems?

Harlander and her research students are investigating the set up of aviary systems, including perches, nest boxes, feeders, drinkers and litter, and the behaviour of birds in them with the intention of providing recommendations for these aviary systems in commercial settings.

One of three current projects involves testing the optimum ramp incline that hens can master across ages and strains. A steeper ramp means less room used but are the hens more likely to fly up and risk injury? Chantal LeBlanc, a Master’s student at the University of Guelph, is testing ramp inclines of 20, 50 and 70 degrees leading to two different platform heights similar to those found in commercial aviaries. “Nobody has tested that before,” said LeBlanc. She is also comparing two different surface materials on the ramp – sandpaper versus more commonly used wire mesh.

Starting at just one week old the birds have been tested weekly through 8 weeks of age, bi-weekly from 8 weeks to 20 weeks old, then will be tested further at 25 and 30 weeks of age. LeBlanc places birds from the same home pen — the hen’s friends — in a ‘social attraction’ cage at the top of the ramp, as well as offering food rewards (the birds love raisins) to entice them up the ramp. The hen is first placed on the platform so she sees the reward, then she is released at the bottom of the ramp and allowed to climb. LeBlanc is measuring their behaviour – how do they go up the ramps? Will she fly? Will she walk? At what point do they change from walking up to flying up?

At the bottom of the ramp is a force plate that measures how much they anticipate the climb by the ground-reaction force exerted on the plate – the hypothesis is that the greater the ramp incline, the greater the ground reaction force: it’s more effort.

In another research study, Master’s student Stephanie LeBlanc is looking at how typical production diseases affect the balancing ability of laying hens. Does physical impairment have any impact on the incidence of falls and subsequent keel bone fractures in aviary systems?

LeBlanc tested birds on a motorized moving perch system that sways back and forth. The birds were 69 weeks old and had some typical damage such as footpad dermatitis, poor wing feather coverage or keel bone fractures. This study is looking at how that damage affected their balancing ability on the moving perch. The research is very realistic, using birds that industry actually deals with every day.

The birds were also subjected to different treatments – rubber chickens, for example, were placed on each side of a bird to allow 15 cm of perch: how does this affect her ability to balance? There can be other birds next to a bird on the perch when she’s trying to take off or land – how does this impact the bird’s balance? “She isn’t able to flap,” said LeBlanc, which could increase the probability of injury.  She also put a cotton mask on some birds to mimic low lighting conditions to see how that impacted the birds, adding to much-needed baseline research data for aviary systems.

In another section of the poultry research centre in Arkell, Master’s candidate Madison Kozak is using time loggers to compare the day-to-day behaviour of four different common industry breeds – two Lohman, brown & white, Dekalb white and Hyline white hens in aviaries. “No one has ever made a time budget for a chicken,” said Kozak. How much time do they spend on the ground? How much time do they spend on a platform or perch?

Her research is also going back to the basics to look at the locomotor patterns of the chickens, trying to see how they navigate the aviary systems, trying to distinguish between what we think they want and what they choose. “It’s very basic but necessary,” said Kozak.

Aviaries are becoming increasingly popular, said Kozak, as an option that allows birds to fly, move, run and jump. Aviary systems are supposed to improve hen welfare but a lot of birds are having a hard time navigating them. She has designed an experimental aviary system with a ramp and a ladder, two platforms and a higher perch with two different thicknesses with a spring on it so when they step on it, it’s more like a branch. The wooden features in the pens mimic those made of steel in commercial aviaries. In the industry there will be a higher stocking density.

“We’re getting a time budget,” explained Kozak, who will be measuring the time spent on each behaviour for two hours per day using non-intrusive data loggers attached to the hen’s back. Some birds are fitted with a real data logger; some just have dummy data loggers of the same weight to see if having the apparatus attached to their backs affects their behaviour. The data loggers measure the height of where the bird is in the aviary and an accelerometer is used to measure the speed of the bird and the distance they’ve gone in any direction. Kozak will calibrate this data with videos to evaluate the accuracy of the data logger information for use in further research. “There’s a ton of data that will be easier to analyze with the data logger than with videos,” said Kozak.

How much time to they spend in the ground or in the air? Do they actually use all of the areas of the cage? Maybe they only need one platform? Do they prefer the ramp or the ladder or do they care? Do they prefer to walk or fly, up and down?

She is already seeing that the ladders used by the white birds have a lot of feces on them, which indicates a lot of use compared to the brown birds. Maybe certain breeds are better suited for aviaries?

Kozak also placed brooder boxes in the aviaries for the first eight weeks to simulate the darkness the young birds would experience when hiding in the feathers of a hen. Is it possible these birds will be better adjusted hens later, expressing less feather pecking than those reared without the darkness? Brooder boxes are easy and cheap to construct.

All three studies will combine to help define the right aviary design, one that prevents injuries, and provide suggestions for how birds could be raised for the aviary systems. “We can’t think like a bird,” said Kozak, but we will soon know more about what a bird thinks. Results are expected starting this fall.

Leading this research is Dr. Alexandra Harlander, an assistant professor in Animal Science at the University of Guelph, who has recently been gifted $500,000 by Burnbrae Farms, Canada’s largest egg producer, to establish a professorship in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science. Harlander received her veterinary degree in Vienna, continuing her poultry research at the University of Hohanheim in Germany and the University of Bern in Switzerland before choosing to come to Canada, lured by the positive research atmosphere here. She currently advises five research projects involving the welfare and behaviour of poultry. “I’m very grateful to all my students,” said Harlander. “It’s hard to convince students that chickens are exciting…they are great and they are funny. You can train chickens – they’re very clever. I’d like to raise the excitement level just a bit.”



Published in Housing

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
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

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