Research
The good farmland of Aylsham, Sask., is where Henry Classen was born and raised. As the youngest of four boys in a Mennonite family, young Hank knew that his chance of getting any of the family farmland wasn’t good, but what he didn’t know was that his choice of pursuing an academic career in agriculture would lead him down a logical path to success.

Dr. Classen was named Distinguished Professor at the University of Saskatchewan in the spring of 2013 and within a month was also awarded the position of Industrial Research Chair in Poultry Nutrition, leading a five-year, $3.6-million National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) research project.

Such an honour hadn’t even dawned on the early teenager when he was tending the chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese for a neighbour, Mrs. Ryba, a quarter mile down the road from his family’s grain and pig farm. It was a key time of influence on the young boy: he discovered poultry.

Classen did his early schooling in Aylsham and Nipawin, Sask., and then finished his last year of high school at Rosthern Junior College, a private Mennonite school. His family core values of hard work are typical of that era and that work ethic has had a strong impact on his life and what he thinks is important.

His father hoped that his youngest boy would pursue a career in banking. After all, his dad thought bankers must have a good life since banks were open only until 3 p.m. at that time. But much to his father’s chagrin, the young man ended up with a B.Sc. in agriculture from the University of Saskatchewan with a poultry science major.  

“People can’t always understand where your interests will lead you,” says Classen, but he feels lucky to have loving family members who supported him even though their choices may not have been the same.

Classen’s mentor through his undergraduate degree, Roy Crawford, had done graduate work at the University of Massachusetts, so it was more than just coincidence that his own interest in research took him there as well. By then he was married with a year-old daughter and that’s when he and his young family left Saskatchewan for the first time. With a University of Saskatchewan jacket slung over one shoulder and a pony porta-potty for his little daughter slung over the other, he travelled with his family by bus and train to Massachusetts with all their worldly possessions in 23 boxes, including their pots and pans.

At the University of Massachusetts, Classen did two degrees under the supervision of his key mentor, J. Robert Smyth Jr. With his thesis written, he was quickly accepted for an assistant professor position at Pennsylvania State University, where he worked for one and a half years.

But when a professor at the University of Saskatchewan retired, Classen saw a chance to come home. His wife came with him for the interview but he didn’t tell anyone else, wanting to make the decision without outside pressure.

That’s when the phone in the hotel room rang – it was his Aunt Betty, welcoming him back to the province. “Within a half hour we realized there were no secrets in Saskatchewan,” he says. He was glad to be home. That was 1978.

It has now been 35 years since Classen returned home to Saskatchewan, and as he says, “I’m still here and having fun.”

For Classen, being appointed as Industrial Research Chair is “a big honour that the poultry industry had confidence in me and put a lot of money on the table to make this happen.”

Even the organizing committee questioned if his ambitious mandate meant he was biting off more than he could chew, but organizing 20 studies in poultry nutrition – with three undergraduate, five M.Sc. and four PhD students, two post-doctoral fellows and a professional research associate – while addressing the requirements of nine sponsors, will all follow a logical sequence of events. “It’s the way I like to do research,” says Classen, who expressed great confidence in his team and collaborators.

Funding for the five-year project has been provided through NSERC and poultry industry organizations in Saskatchewan, allowing Classen and his team to study starch and protein utilization in poultry and its potential to affect production, health and welfare.

With this award the University of Saskatchewan will also hire a new poultry scientist, which Classen says is important to the stakeholders in this research as well as to Canadian poultry science research in general.
Published in New Technology
Agricultural disease is one of the biggest hurdles for any farmer, processor or industry to overcome; never mind the damage it causes to the environment and economy of a region. While the implementation of biosecurity measures is key in the control of such diseases, it does not deal directly with the problem.

The Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency Ltd. (ALMA) is working with a team of researchers to create a new vaccine for poultry to help prevent the spread and damage that two pathogens cause to poultry producers – Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens.

Dr. Christine Szymanski, a University of Alberta professor and one of the researchers involved in the project, said that the preferred method of control for these two pathogens would be a vaccine, as it can help reduce the risk of contamination of eggs and meat without the use of antibiotics. This is especially important due to the concerns from both consumers and producers regarding antibiotic resistance.

The researchers decided on Salmonella because of its ability to cause foodborne illnesses in humans, and Clostridium perfringens, which causes necrotic enteritis in broilers in addition to food poisoning in humans.

“While C. perfringens is the most common and financially devastating bacterial disease in commercial flocks, no effective chicken vaccine is commercially available,” said Szymanski. “And salmonella in humans is caused by consumption of contaminated eggs and poultry products, and results in potentially severe gastrointestinal issues.”

MAKING IT STICK
The vaccine research is based on Szymanski’s development of a successful carbohydrate-based poultry vaccine for another common foodborne pathogen, Campylobacter jejuni. This was accomplished through the use of bacterial glycomics, the investigation of sugars (also known as glycans), especially those found on the surface of the bacteria.

According to Szymanski, the sugars on the surface of pathogenic Salmonella and C. perfringens can be presented on the surface of a non-pathogenic bacteria, which means that a vaccine could be used to stimulate an immune response without the use of the deadly strains.

“This means we can create a vaccine from harmless bacterial strains that will help the bird’s immune system identify and destroy the pathogenic strains. In this way, a single vaccine will simulate an immune response in the bird that will protect it from a broad array of Salmonella and C. perfringens strains.”

She added that combining the two vaccines into one would provide an inexpensive vaccine against the two problematic pathogens. In doing so, this could eliminate the need for antibiotics for both diseases.

This is especially important for C. perfringens, Szymanski said, which currently can only be controlled through the addition of antibiotics into the drinking water.

AN IMPORTANT STEP
Glycan-based vaccines are not new, as human glycoconjugate vaccines have been routinely used for less than 20 years with minimal side-effects, and are routinely given to infants. Similarly, no side-effects have been seen with the C. jejuni chicken vaccine, and the live non-pathogenic organisms in the vaccine are only in the system long enough to induce an immune response before being cleared from the chicken entirely.

“Right now, researchers struggle to obtain a reproducible two-log drop in campylobacter colonization from chickens,” said Szymanski. “In our studies, we reproducibly observe six to eight logs drop in campylobacter colonization – with many birds having undetectable levels of C. jejuni in their intestines.”

Dr. Susan Novak, ALMA’s research manager, said, “A glycan-based vaccine would be a transformative advancement for the poultry industry. The use of antibiotics could be reduced if producers are able to give their birds a dual vaccine that boosts the immunity against multiple strains with a single shot. Alberta is leading the world in this area and that is a point of pride for our industry as well as a real competitive edge.”

In addition, Drs. Szymanski and Mario Feldman have spun off a company, VaxAlta Inc. in Edmonton that builds on their studies in bacterial glycomics. They were the first to identify the C. jejuni glycan pathway and show that sugar systems can be mixed and matched to produce novel glycoconjugates. Szymanski and Feldman are now exploiting this expertise toward the development of novel glycoconjugate vaccines for use in agriculture.

“The next step in our research is to optimize the carbohydrate-based vaccine against C. jejuni and create an effective dual vaccine against Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens. Glycoconjugate vaccines against other pathogens found in poultry, cattle and pigs are also in the pipeline,” said Szymanski.
Published in Genetics
In 1946, there were about 300 Canadian commercial chicken breeders, and most or all Canadian research institutions conducting poultry research maintained their own genetic lines.  By the 1980s there were only two primary breeders based in Canada – Shaver and Hybrid – as well as 13 middle-level breeders of chickens, turkeys, and waterfowl, and 119 populations kept in 11 research institutions.  

Today, two breeders dominate the international market for layers, broilers (90 per cent) and turkeys.  As well, there are hardly any middle-level breeders left in Canada, and until recently, five Canadian institutions conducting agricultural research kept 38 populations of chickens and Japanese quail.

The Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Agassiz, B.C,, has recently terminated its poultry unit, including nine lines of chickens and nine lines of Japanese quail.

It is clear that avian researchers and the poultry industry have experienced a massive loss of genetic resources. Maintaining live flocks is impractical and very costly, and economical methods of preserving poultry genetics for future use are badly needed, as genetic resources continue to narrow.  

In the recent past, the only effective method of conserving poultry germplasm has been in living animals. Alternative options have been attempted over the years, but results have not been very promising. Fertility obtained from cryopreserved chicken semen is unpredictable and the structure of the avian egg prevents its cryopreservation. Embryonic cells can be stored and used to generate germline chimeras (organisms with a mixture of cells from different embryos), but this requires complex procedures and results in very low efficiency. Over the past century, chicken ovarian transplantation has been attempted with limited success.  

Successful development of techniques for cryopreservation and transplantation of ovaries and testicles of birds can provide the means of maintaining the genetic variation needed for full differentiation of markets for poultry meat and eggs. Dr. Fred Silversides, formerly of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, together with Drs. Yonghong Song (Dubai), Jianan Liu (USDA post-doctoral research fellow) and Kim Cheng (UBC), has been working on optimizing cryopreservation and transplantation of avian gonadal tissue.  

The first step in this research, which was Dr. Jianan Liu’s PhD project, was aimed at simplifying the storage process for cryopreserved genetic material by using vitrification, which converts liquid to a glass-like substance instead of ice crystals, and has several advantages over slow-freezing procedures in preserving tissue.

A vitrification protocol was developed to preserve Japanese quail ovarian and testicular tissue, using cryoprotective agents and acupuncture needles to facilitate tissue handling. Rather than using cryovials typically used for cryopreservation, a simpler straw system was tested and found to be an ideal storage medium, as it has the advantage of fitting into existing systems for storage and transport.

Normal morphology of testicular tissue was observed after in ovo culture and live offspring were produced by performing surgical insemination directly into the hen’s oviduct with the extrusion of cryopreserved testicular tissue. Donor-derived offspring were also efficiently produced from cryopreserved and transplanted ovarian tissue.

Also, because gonadal transplantation is critical to functional recovery of cryopreserved tissue but can be limited by tissue rejection, the researchers used thymic tissue to improve the efficiency of immunological acceptance. Donor thymic tissue was implanted into recipient embryos, and gonadal tissue from the same donor was transplanted under the skin to the recipient after hatching. Transplant viability and histology were also examined.  

It was found that thymic implantation might improve survival of gonadal transplants from chicken to chicken, but not transplants from quail to chickens. Investigations into avian ovarian transplantation led to intriguing additional observations: donor-derived offspring were produced from transplanted adult quail ovarian tissue, although delayed age at first egg and reduced reproductive longevity were observed with the transplants. As well, offspring with chimeric plumage coloration were produced from cryopreserved and transplanted chicken ovarian tissue, indicating chimeric folliculogenesis.

This project provides a successful model of cryobanking avian gonadal tissue using a simple vitrification method and suggests future directions in improving transplantation tolerance and using gonadal transplantation in avian research. This is good news for the poultry industry, as cryobanking of germplasm is both economical and ensures availability of genetic resources for years to come. To read more about this research project, please visit www.poultryindustrycouncil.ca.


The Poultry Industry Council congratulates Dr. Fred Silversides on his 2013 Poultry Science Association American Egg Board Research Award.

The American Egg Board Research Award is given to increase the interest in research pertaining to egg science technology or marketing that has a bearing on egg or spent hen utilization. The award is given to an author for a manuscript published in Poultry Science or The Journal of Applied Poultry Research during the preceding year.
Published in Health
In September of this year, the University of Guelph received a $1 million gift to help fund a professorship in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC). The generous donation from James and Brenda McIntosh will help improve poultry nutrition research, training and outreach.

FOND MEMORIES
James McIntosh earned both an undergraduate degree in 1959 and a master’s degree in 1961 (in poultry nutrition) from the university. “My years at the university were enjoyable, both as a time to learn and as a time to make lifelong friendships,” says McIntosh.

“The OAC is where I met Brenda, my wife and business partner, and the friendships I developed proved invaluable in my career in agriculture. Plus, being a graduate of OAC provided an immediate introduction and connection to others in the agricultural industry who graduated from the same school.”

The gift is significant in a number of ways, says OAC dean Rob Gordon. “In particular, it is so fantastic when some of our alumni are able to provide back to the institution,” says Gordon. “And certainly this McIntosh gift is a perfect example of an individual who is a graduate from our program who’s giving back, which we appreciate.”

Gordon says that the gift also allows the Animal Poultry Science department, as well as the Ontario Agricultural College, to continue to be recognized as leaders in supporting the poultry industry in Ontario, both nationally and internationally.

The major aspect of poultry production continues to be the cost, he says. As well, research on feed digestion and the absorption of nutrients will greatly help to improve the efficiency of the industry. Guelph hopes that the person who fills this position will work closely with the feed industry, as well as the various poultry organizations, to further create opportunities for innovation and improved efficiency.

The hiring process has already begun with the formation of a selection committee, and the university is currently consulting with industry organizations to put together a strategic plan, making sure they are all on the same page when it comes to the industry’s needs.

“We want to make sure that we attract the best candidates from all over the world for this position,” says Gordon.

The university expects that the position will be filled by the spring or summer of 2014. “We really feel the need to move forward as efficiently and effectively as possible, but at the same time want to make sure we find the right person,” he says.

It is expected that someone who is strongly focused on improving the feed efficiency and production capacity of the sector will fill the new professorship. “As part of that, they’re going to be looking for alternative feeds, improved feed use efficiencies, as well as other attributes that affect the whole context of nutrition,” says Gordon.

Michael Leslie, a poultry nutritionist with Masterfeeds, is thrilled about the news of the new professorship. He says in terms of available ingredients and production targets, Ontario’s poultry and feed industries are quite different from those in the United States, and even Western Canada.

“To have a professor at the university that is familiar with local conditions and able to help feed companies and producers meet our goals is much more valuable than importing talent periodically to try to find solutions to our problems,” says Leslie. “In addition, a local professor would keep on top of research going on across Canada and the rest of the world and be able to pass that knowledge along to our industry.”

Perhaps more important though, is the potential for the improved training of University of Guelph graduates. With the recent retirement of Dr. Steve Leeson, there’s some concern that Guelph graduates will have not acquired the necessary background in poultry nutrition through the Animal and Poultry Science Department, which means the industry would be hiring graduates who had no prior experience in poultry.

“This position will fill that gap and result in better trained, well-rounded graduates,” says Leslie.

“We really appreciate the McIntosh family for this transformational gift,” concludes Gordon. “It’s something that is allowing us to move forward during a time when the ability to hire new faculty at universities is often quite limited.”
Published in Housing
The use of phytogenic feed additives and probiotics has been well researched and is growing around the world. Livestock and poultry scientists across the globe continue to look at these natural substances as a way to replace antibiotics, control the growth of harmful micro-organisms in the digestive tract and boost animal performance. They are natural, have proven and positive effects, and require no withdrawal time before slaughter. However, although the benefits of both these additives are already well documented, much more research needs to be done to determine the best practices and detailed cost-effectiveness.  

First, probiotics are “good” bacteria given in dry inert form that are activated in the intestines of livestock and poultry. They implant, grow and change the ecology in a positive way by reducing pathogen populations within the animal. Probiotics have been shown to help birds cope with the stresses of day-to-day life in densely populated flocks, and can also be particularly beneficial in high-stress periods such as transport, drastic weather events or ration changes.

“Probiotics are multifaceted products with a variety of beneficial effects for chickens,” says Dr. Shayan Sharif, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. “Probiotic formulations have been shown to reduce the burden of pathogens in the chicken intestine, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium and coccidia. In addition, probiotics can enhance immune competence of the bird, leading to better immune responses elicited by vaccines and also better resistance to infectious pathogens.” He adds, “In broilers, probiotics have been shown to be effective to increase growth performance and feed conversion, along with enhanced immune competence. In layers, probiotics also show positive effects on enhancing immune status as well as a positive impact on egg mass, egg weight and egg size.”

Sharif notes that because probiotics exert their effect through changes to the gastrointestinal microflora, they are most effective when given at an early age while digestive microflora is still being established. Therefore, there are generally different recommendations for broilers and layers.

There is not a lot of data on the use of probiotics in Canada, which Sharif thinks may be partly related to the required approval process. “I presume the use of probiotics in the European Union, South America, Asia and the U.S. is much more common,” he says.

“Based on an estimate by Lallemand (a Canadian company based in Quebec that researches, develops and produces yeasts, bacteria and related products), the probiotic market in 2009 was worth close to $600 million.” Other market analyses, he adds, reveal that among feed supplements, probiotics have the highest rate of growth of use.  

Dr. Doug Korver also believes probiotics have a place in poultry production, but notes some technical and practical limitations. “The efficacy of probiotics is dependent on live bacteria being delivered to the digestive tract,” notes the associate professor in the Department of Poultry Nutrition at the University of Alberta, “[so] this makes issues such as shelf life, heat stability, compatibility with other ingredients very important.”

He also points out that simple probiotics, such as those with a few bacterial species, tend to be less effective than complex probiotics (which have many species), because a single bacterial species cannot always form a stable population. “The products I am aware of in Canada tend to be ‘simple’ probiotics, but I can’t comment specifically on the efficacy of any product,” he says. “There was a complex product available in the U.S. for a time, with about 29 bacterial species, I believe, but it stopped being produced a number of years ago because of the complexity of maintaining all of these species in continuous culture.”

Like Sharif, Korver thinks probiotics are likely most effective when given early in life, when the birds’ guts are more or less sterile. “In that case, a simple probiotic might be able to prevent colonization by a pathogen, even if it doesn’t stay over time,” he says. “It allows a ‘bridge’ between the naïve gut and the mature microflora the bird will have as it gets older.”

The beneficial probiotic bacteria are intended to occupy the surface of the intestine, and pathogenic bacteria are then unable to bind, which is necessary for colonization. “If they can’t bind, they get washed out with the fecal material,” Korver explains.

PHYTGENICS
Like probiotics, phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) help prevent intestinal disorders and boost the health and growth rate of livestock and birds. These plant-derived products, which are mainly essential oils, can also improve feed intake by boosting palatability. PFAs have been shown to improve egg production, increase immunity in laying hens and broilers and provide beneficial effects on eggshell characteristics. Sharif says research has shown that carvacrol (from oregano) cinnamaldehyde (from cinnamon) and capsaicin (from chili peppers) can also improve the growth performance of poultry.

“The use of essential oils as feed additives for agricultural animals is gaining popularity,” he notes. “Essential oils are another possible alternative to antimicrobial growth promoters.”

Dr. Todd Applegate, a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Purdue University in Indiana, agrees. He points out that current estimates of PFA use in combined livestock/aquaculture/poultry diets in the European Union are around 20 per cent, and increasing.

“Phytogenic products certainly are discussed extensively within the U.S., but there is not nearly as much market penetration as in the EU,” Applegate says. “This may be due, in part, to the time which those products have been on the market and familiarity with cost/benefit. In contrast, the U.S. market has had a much longer history with probiotic products (since the 1980s), and thus there is more familiarity and somewhat better acceptance.”

Applegate notes that a PFA’s physiological effects vary depending on several factors, including which plant it comes from. “For example, some can be immune-stimulatory (for example, ginseng) versus others which can be immunosuppressive (like Ginko biloba),” he explains. “The physiologic effects that we have observed in our laboratory have been through changes to chemical composition of the mucus layer in the intestine.”

He adds that many of the PFAs on the market today contain blends of several plant extracts, and their benefits can vary due to the blend itself as well as the processes used to extract and retain the essential oils.

The effect of PFAs will also take some time, depending on their properties. “For example, if they impart an effect on changing the mucin production in the bird,” explains Applegate, “due to the time it takes to have a cellular effect on cell identity and processes, it could be upwards of a week before intestinal cells can completely ‘turn over’ and thus be completely influenced.”

Applegate says producers must keep in mind that each PFA and probiotic product on the market is very unique in terms of its specific attributes, and therefore neither should be considered as a “commodity” product. “For example, some have targeted specific pathogen reduction capacities, while others may have been selected for production traits of bacteriocins (antimicrobial compounds), adherence to the epithelial surface, longevity within the digestive tract, and/or production/use characteristics (thermal stability, chlorine resistance, etc.),” he notes.

Hopefully, much more Canadian research will be conducted on the effects, best use practices and detailed cost-effectiveness of PFAs and probiotics. In the meantime, interested growers should do their research and consult with trusted feed experts and nutritionists.

We would like to hear from growers who have had experience with these feed additives; please contact the editor.
Published in Nutrition and Feed
Oct. 18, 2013 - Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart announced $17.25 million in funding over the next five years for 13 strategic research chairs.  These world-class research chairs will help ensure that Saskatchewan has the capacity to further develop new crop varieties, expand the sector’s knowledge and enhance technologies to grow the agriculture industry.

“This funding ensures that we have highly-qualified scientists whose work in the lab transfers to results in the field,” Stewart said.  “Their research provides Saskatchewan producers with the tools and information to be industry leaders, increase production and continue producing safe, reliable products to feed a growing world population.”

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture’s Strategic Research Program focuses on four areas: crop genetic improvement; livestock development; food and bioproducts development; and, soils and environment.  Each chair consists of a scientist and a technician who reside at the University of Saskatchewan.  The program assures stable funding to facilitate the recruitment and retention of the best research personnel.  The chairs are responsible for attracting project funding from programs offered by public and private sectors to support their respective research program.

“This investment provides crucial support to our current researchers and resources to attract more world-class scientists to create knowledge to help farmers prosper and help feed a growing world population,” University of Saskatchewan Vice-President for Research Karen Chad said.

This funding includes the creation of a new forage research chair in 2013, as a result of feedback from industry groups.  Since 2007, the federal and provincial governments have committed $35 million to the Strategic Research Program.

For more information on the program and Growing Forward 2, please visit the Saskatchewan Agriculture website at www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/GrowingForward2 or the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada website at www.agr.gc.ca/growingforward2.
Published in Turkeys
A commercial-scale study of housing alternatives for laying hens is being conducted by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply in the United States. The coalition is studying each housing system closely and evaluating the viability of the many variables of each, including environmental impact, food safety, worker safety, animal health and well-being, and food affordability.

According to the coalition, the research will aid food companies and other organizations in making purchasing decisions that are ethically grounded, scientifically verified and economically viable.

Earlier this year, Dr. Janice Siegford from Michigan State University (MSU) shared some of the preliminary results at the sixth Annual Animal Research Symposium at the University of Guelph.

Siegford and her team are studying hen welfare and behaviour in aviary systems, in co-operation with research teams from the University of California and Iowa State University, evaluating all three systems for environmental quality, human health, food safety and economics. “So we’re really trying to do a whole system analysis so that the data we get out of this can be put into context,” says Siegford.

The need for this research stems from a combination of public pressure and regulatory changes: in some U.S. states, new regulations dictate that laying hens must have room to stand and stretch their wings without touching the cage.

Since conventional cages are no longer an option, producers are left deciding which system is best to transition into. Research has been limited on the subject, and more often than not, focused on conventional systems.

“Do these alternative systems actually improve welfare?” asks Siegford. “We’re giving them these things, but are we giving them in a way that’s meaningful to the hen?”

No matter which factors you consider – economics, welfare or food safety – research shows that no system is perfect. “We haven’t got it perfect yet, for sure,” Siegford says. “With the enriched system, there are a lot of nice features in terms of providing the hens with the different kinds of environmental features that they might like, keeping things like cannibalism to a minimum, keeping disease transmission on a low scale, etc.”

She points out that the enriched system still preserves some of the good aspects of the conventional system; for example, hens still drop eggs into clean nests. Rollout belts are used so that eggs stay clean and there is not as much potential for breakage or egg loss. Droppings are carried away on belts and kept contained, so from an environmental and food safety standpoint, they’re very clean.

“And you still have pretty good feed efficiency and feed conversion,” says Siegford. “One of the issues with hens when you move to some of the other housing systems, is that if you put fewer hens in a building, they’re generating less body heat and then you have to feed them more to increase heat or pump more heat into the building.

“With the enriched systems, you can still have a fairly large number of hens per square foot, so you still avoid some of those problems. If you’ve got hens that are constantly outside of their thermal-neutral zone, then it becomes a welfare issue.”

When it comes to hen welfare, though, the best option for laying hens is dependent on their strain. “If you have hens that are fairly mellow and not likely to pick on each other, then putting them in an aviary system does give them a lot of behavioural freedom. They can make a lot of choices, have a lot of control over how they spend their day, and then they’re not likely to suffer being picked on or pecked at by other hens.”

Unfortunately, though, a lot of the high-producing strains do pick on one another. “You can’t just say that the aviary’s universally better for welfare for all hens because cannibalism is obviously really an ugly problem,” says Siegford.

“Sometimes you give chickens the freedom of choice and they do some pretty awful things to each other.”

Another welfare issue with hens is bone breakage. Regardless of which system you use, bone breakage will always be an issue. The same is true with feather loss, which occurs around their necks from feeding in caged systems. In the non-caged and outdoor free-range systems, feather loss problems are a result of pecking.

As Siegford and her team at MSU reviewed the preliminary data, they were most surprised by the perching behaviour of the hens. Although the aviaries provided perches on all three levels, their usage was not as evenly distributed as the researchers expected.

“When you look at those hens perching at night, even though within each level the perches are six inches above the floor, they still cram into the top level to perch at night,” says Siegford. “You see the most birds up top, an intermediate number of birds in the middle and very few birds on that bottom level.

“So even though we’re providing them in the furnished cages, we still haven’t gotten the perches right yet,” she continues.

Siegford credits producers and manufacturers with being innovative, though. “Most of them are making an effort to provide hens with things like perches, nesting areas, litter potentially for dust bathing, things of that nature, that hens have demonstrated to be strongly motivated to perform or that do substantially improve welfare. But it’s just not that simple.”

IN CONCLUSION

As producers transition from conventional to new alternative systems, it is important to know that considerable liabilities still exist in terms of economic efficiency, hen welfare and biosecurity, and it cannot be assumed that non-cage systems will improve hen welfare to a level that is acceptable to both producers and consumers.

Although enriched systems appear to be the best choice, the jury is still out. While the data has not yet been analyzed, Siegford’s team has finished collecting information from the second flock and its final report should be available sometime in 2014.
Published in Layers
Birds depend on increasing day length as a signal to mature sexually, which means that controlling and manipulating photoperiod is critical to optimize reproduction in poultry. The type and quality of light used also is very important, with broad-spectrum lighting traditionally being used to successfully control reproduction.  

GETTING THE LIGHT RIGHT

Conventional artificial light sources such as incandescent lighting provide a broad spectrum and have been extensively used by the poultry industry very successfully. However, incandescent lighting is the least efficient of any existing light source and its sale is to be phased out. This means that new, more efficient lighting sources need to be used – but these also need to be well researched to ensure the future prosperity of the poultry industry.

The spectrum provided by a lighting source not only looks different to the eye, but also affects bird physiology differently. Previous research has shown that light in the red end of the spectrum can penetrate the skull and directly stimulate the reproductive axis, while lower wavelengths from the blue/green end of the spectrum may be inhibitory to reproduction.  Therefore, it may be possible to use a lighting system that is extremely efficient but using only part of the light spectrum to achieve the desired outcome.

ENERGY-FRIENDLY OPTION

Dr. Grégoy Bédécarrats’ research program at the University of Guelph is focused on light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which can be adjusted to produce any spectrum under unlimited luminance settings with minimal energy input. As such, this technology represents the best option for energy friendly, sustainable poultry farming in Ontario. Bédécarrats was interested in the effect of light wavelength on laying hens in order to design a novel LED lighting system to promote egg-laying without negatively impacting health and welfare.

EXPERIMENTAL SETUP

Computer controlled LED light fixtures were mounted on top of conventional cages and the research barn was divided into three sections where hens were exposed to either pure green, white or pure red wavelengths. To determine whether any effect was mediated via the retina of the eye, a blind line of Smoky Joe chickens (containing both blind and temporarily sighted hens) was used. As the egg-laying industry progressively transitions toward colony-enriched cages and aviary systems, the research team also tested the effect of light wavelength on commercial layers housed in collective floor pens. Data was collected on their behaviour and social interactions (such as activity and aggressiveness), as well as on production levels.

“COOL” FINDINGS

The team’s findings showed that red light promoted an early, strong stimulation of the reproductive axis with a longer and higher peak production, while green light resulted in delayed sexual maturation. Since the researchers observed no difference between blind and sighted hens, they concluded that the retina of the eye does not appear to be involved in mediating the effect of light on reproduction.

Results also show that, unlike the line of Smoky Joe Leghorn (which has not been selected for egg production), commercial layers spontaneously matured prior to photostimulation, and as a result, light wavelength did not impact age at first egg or peak production.

RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT

Nonetheless, red light was once again superior in stimulating the production of sex hormones. Interestingly, green light promoted utilization of nest boxes but also resulted in the desynchronization of ovulation with eggs being laid equally during day and night. Finally, light spectrum had no major significant effect on feed consumption, body weight gain, stress or aggressiveness.

CONCLUSIONS

In conclusion, this work demonstrates that a light bulb within the red spectrum is the best option to promote optimum egg production without any significant impact on feed consumption, health and behaviour.  

To that end, Dr. Bédécarrats has entered a partnership with a Canadian company (Thies Electrical Distributing Co.) to develop spectrum lighting LED bulbs suitable for use in barns and a product designed for the egg-laying industry is currently undergoing CSA and Energy Star certification. Follow-up research is currently ongoing to validate the use of this bulb in commercial settings.
Published in Environment
Mike Petrik has been a laying hen veterinarian for 15 years and has just completed his master of science in animal welfare at the University of Guelph under the supervision of animal behaviour and welfare specialist Tina Widowski, professor in the department of Animal and Poultry Science, and Michele Geurin, DVM, an associate professor specializing in poultry management at the Ontario Veterinary College.

Petrik’s research will set a baseline for welfare parameters in floor and conventional cage barns for laying hens, comparing the incidence of keel bone fracture rates and feather condition between the two housing systems.

Although it is scientifically established that hens in conventional cages have weaker bones than cage-free hens due to lack of exercise (one of the welfare concerns of cages), the high-producing hen of today typically depletes the calcium in her bones, which leads to osteoporosis and fragile bones. In non-cage systems there is an increased risk for injury – even though hens’ bones are stronger. The keel bone, which is the pointed bone where the breast muscles attach (similar to the sternum in humans), seems to be one of the most affected. Fractures and deformities of keel bones have become one of the top welfare issues of the laying hen.

While studies have been done in Europe, Petrik says this is the first study of its kind in North America: “Since our production methods, housing densities, nutrition and egg size targets are quite different, our rates may be quite different.”

Petrik collected data from 10 cage-housed systems and 10 floor barns (“free-run”) at 20 farms across Ontario, using all brown birds for consistency. Fifty birds were weighed at each location and feather scored at four different stages of lay. He also checked production and mortality records for the possibility of any correlated data and assessed flocks at different ages in order to determine when the majority of these fractures occur.

Overall, the results are showing that keel bone breakage rates in Ontario birds are similar to those in the rest of the world.  

To test if a hen’s keel bones was broken, Petrik tested a palpation procedure proposed by a group out of Bristol, U.K. As part of his study, a group of masters students each palpated 100 birds, showing the palpation procedure to be reliable and accurate. Petrik then used this palpation technique to evaluate live birds in different stages of lay. Using this technique means that the hens don’t need to be euthanized to be assessed, allowing the use of this type of assessment in a welfare audit. The technique also allows repeated measures to be taken in a single flock, giving some idea as to time of incidence of the fracture.

Petrik still has a lot of questions: How do they break their keel bone? In non-caged housing, birds will fly but they are lousy at landing, often crashing into water bowls, feed bowls, other birds and even stumbling on the floor. But in caged housing, are the birds just fragile?

“It’s hard to say,” ponders Petrik, when bone strength and hardness are noticeably higher when birds are kept on the floor, not housed in cages, and yet breakage rates are still higher.

His suspicion is that in cage systems the breakage comes from the pressure put on the keel bone while the hen squats on the cage bottom to rest or sleep with their entire weight on their keel bone, but he has no proof. “Like most things, the more you find out, the less you know,” he says. He sees keel breakage as a multi-factorial issue, one where “we don’t even understand causation well yet.”

The final results will be released by December. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Egg Farmers of Canada have provided funding for the study.

To learn about U.S.-based research regarding various types of hen housing and their effects on environmental quality, human health, food safety and economics, see page 34.

This new regular series of articles is part of the communications plan of the Poultry Welfare Centre. For more information, visit the Canadian Virtual Centre for Poultry Welfare at http://poultrywelfarecentre.ca/
Published in Layers
Government funding organizations are increasingly looking to industry to show a commitment to research and ensure that funds are allocated to address industry priorities. The industry has responded by increasing its co-operation in setting research priorities and making funding commitments.

For example, a broad range of industry stakeholders provided input on the research priorities and desired outcomes recently published in the National Research Strategy for Canada’s Poultry Sector, available on the “Research” page of our website, www.cp-rc.ca.  The document is designed as a general road map to help guide Canadian poultry research efforts over the next several years through co-operation, co-ordination and communication, so that all those involved in Canadian poultry research are working together to develop the most effective and efficient research system possible. The strategy will be reviewed and updated regularly based on industry consultation, in order to ensure that it reflects changes in the poultry sector.

Industry co-operation in funding was evident in CPRC’s recent proposal for a new Poultry Science Cluster to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriInnovation Program. Nineteen industry organizations and companies committed over $1.7 million to support the cluster’s five-year program to aid 18 research projects. Nine of the funding co-operators are producer organizations and 10 are corporations providing poultry industry inputs or processing poultry products.  

The research projects fall into four major themes:
  1. Infectious diseases of poultry
  2. Alternative animal health products and management strategies
  3. Poultry welfare and well-being
  4. Environmental stewardship
Announced in September 2012, CPRC’s Research Sponsorship Program presents an opportunity for further funding and co-operation through the support of Aviagen Inc., the inaugural sponsor. Aviagen continues to support Canadian poultry research with its 2013 sponsorship contribution, which will be used to enhance the annual research contributions from CPRC’s member organizations. A review of CPRC-funded research projects showed that all parts of the poultry value chain benefit from research discoveries, including producers, feed suppliers, animal health-care companies and professionals, processors, distributors and consumers.    

CPRC’s Research Sponsorship Program offers a range of support levels to allow industry stakeholders to choose a sponsorship option that fits their budget. Details of the research sponsorship program, sponsor benefits and an application can be found on the “Sponsorship” page of our website. CPRC’s board and member organizations thank Aviagen Inc. for its leadership in supporting Canadian poultry research.

NEW CRPC DIRECTOR
Brian Bilkes has replaced Cheryl Firby as the Canadian Hatching Egg Producers (CHEP) representative on the CPRC Board. We thank Cheryl for her valuable input during her three years on the board and look forward to working with Brian. Brian has been the alternate director to CHEP from British Columbia since March 2010. Brian serves as chair of CHEP’s research committee and the Canadian Broiler Hatching Egg Producers’ Association. Brian is also the vice-chair of the B.C. Broiler Hatching Egg Commission (BCBHEC) and has served on the board of the BCBHEC since 2008.

Brian graduated from Trinity Western University with an honours bachelor of business administration in 1994. After working in the construction and real estate development industry for a number of years, he purchased a broiler hatching egg operation in Chilliwack, B.C., in 2005. He always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, a hatching egg producer in Seaforth, Ont., from the 1960s to the 1980s. Brian also is involved with a large dairy operation in Chilliwack, and a meat wholesale and retail operation in B.C. He passionately supports research and wants to see the poultry and agricultural industries continually improve to the long-term benefit of poultry and agriculture in Canada.

For more details on any CPRC activities, please contact The Canadian Poultry Research Council, 350 Sparks Street, Suite 1007, Ottawa, ON K1R 7S8, phone: 613-566-5916, fax: 613-241-5999, e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit us at
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 Welfare
The University of Saskatchewan has been examining the impact of microwave toe trimming on the productivity and welfare of commercial turkeys – both in hens (Experiment 1) and in toms (Experiment 2). As part of her M.Sc. candidacy, Jocelyn Fournier led the turkey tom research.

In Fournier’s work, nine replicate pens of 17 commercial Hybrid Converter toms were grown to 20 weeks of age. One-half of these toms were trimmed (T) using the Nova-Tech Microwave Claw Processor at a commercial hatchery on day of hatch, while the other half were untrimmed (UT), but sham treated on the same equipment.  

To facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the toe treatment, a wide range of response variables were measured, including those related to production (body weight, feed intake, feed efficiency), health (mortality and morbidity, histological healing), mobility (through gait score), balance parameters (toe length, posture assessment) and behaviour.

As well, the birds were followed to the commercial slaughterhouse, where their carcasses were examined for scratching and lesions.

Body weight did not differ between the birds until 91 days of age, at which point the UT toms were heavier than the T (12.23 versus 11.93 kg). This trend continued to the final weights at 20 weeks, which were 21.70 for the UT birds and 21.15 kg for the T toms.

Feed consumption differed during the first seven days, with the T birds consuming less feed (0.117 kg) than the UT birds (0.133) – which may be indicative of pain or an unknown sensation in the toes. However, the seven-to-14-day period showed no difference in feed consumption, indicating that the earlier effect was short lasting.

Feed consumption was reduced again for the T birds late in the experiment and could be related to their reduced growth rate at this time. No differences in feed efficiency were noted throughout the trial.

Behavioural monitoring indicated that UT birds were more lethargic on day one and spent less time inactively resting, but more time feeding, standing and walking. Similar results were shown at three and five days of age, which were proven to be significant or approaching significance.

This change in behaviour corresponds to the reduced feed intake of the T birds noted above, with a similar interpretation of pain or abnormal sensations in treated toes. Behavioural observations at 133 days found no differences, except that T birds stood more (27.1 per cent) and walked less (4.6 per cent) than UT turkeys (24.1 and 5.6 per cent, respectively).  

However, gait score measured at seven, 11, 16 and 20 weeks of age did not differ between the treatments.

As turkeys age and their size increases, shorter toes on T birds may result in an inability to maintain balance. In order to assess balance, Fournier measured the angle between a horizontal line through the point where the breast meets the leg, and a line from that point following the line of the breast.

No differences were noted between toms of the two treatments in this study; however, a significant change occurred as the birds aged, regardless of treatment.

Finally, the level of scratching on the carcasses did not differ between treatments. This is in contrast to the data found in the hen flock, where UT carcasses had significantly more severe scratches than the T carcasses.

Fournier concludes that, based on this study focusing on productivity and welfare, toe trimming of heavy turkey toms may not be necessary.


This new regular series of articles is part of the communications plan of the Poultry Welfare Centre. For more information, visit the Canadian Virtual Centre for Poultry Welfare at http://poultrywelfarecentre.ca.
Published in Turkeys
Arobust research program is key to the future of the poultry industry, and the Canadian industry is fortunate to have access to a wide range of research expertise that can help us meet new challenges and find solutions to the problems we face. However, maintaining that pool of expertise requires an injection of new scientists that pick up where retirees leave off. The Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC) promotes succession in the poultry research community by offering a scholarship program to help attract and retain students.

The objectives of the program are as follows:
  • to encourage and support graduate students to carry out poultry science research
  • to build Canada’s intellectual capacity in poultry science
  • to promote graduate research in poultry science at Canadian universities
Eligibility
To be eligible for a CPRC scholarship award, a student must be studying (or planning to study) an aspect of poultry science. Applicants are assessed on a number of criteria, including academic performance, research aptitude, career goals and a demonstrated interest in poultry research.

A postgraduate scholarship supplement is available to students who hold a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) scholarship. Several excellent students have received supplements to their scholarships through this program since its inception in 2006, and as of 2011, the CPRC scholarship is also available to non-NSERC scholars. This change broadened the availability of the scholarship program to accommodate more students with an interest in poultry science.

To Apply
Applications to either the scholarship or supplement are due May 1 of each year. Only one award of $7,500 is given out per year and it is available to master’s (eligible for one year) or doctoral level (eligible for up to two years) students.

Details of the program, including  the application requirements and the past winners, are available on the “Scholarship” section of the CPRC website (www.cp-rc.ca).

And the winner is…
The 2013 CPRC scholarship was awarded to Kayla Price, a PhD student studying under John Barta at the University of Guelph. She is studying Eimeria, the causative organism of coccidiosis in poultry, and looking at practical ways to improve its control in commercial pullets reared on wire floors.

Price’s research has demonstrated the effectiveness of a self-immunization strategy that improves the performance of live cocci vaccines and may reduce the need for coccidiostats, about which there is growing concern over resistance and residues. She has also expanded her original research program to better understand the dynamics of coccidial populations in the bird and in the barn, and to optimize live vaccine doses.

Price has had a very successful academic career thus far, having already published several papers in peer-reviewed journal articles and presented her results at a number of scientific and industry meetings in Canada and abroad. She has received several awards in recognition of her outstanding academic performance.

Beyond academics, Price is highly involved in several activities, both in and outside the university community, aimed at transferring knowledge to potential users of research outcomes, encouraging others to become involved in poultry science and promoting the poultry industry in general.

Price has already made significant contributions to her research program and displays great potential to mature into a scientist of excellent calibre – the kind of scientist we need to help ensure the future success of our industry.

For more details on CPRC activities, please contact the Canadian Poultry Research Council, 350 Sparks St., Suite 1007, Ottawa, ON, K1R 7S8, phone: 613-566-5916, fax: 613-241-5999, e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit us at 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 Researchers
Photo courtesy of Maciej Jaros.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The OAC is where I met Brenda, my wife and business partner, and the friendships I developed proved invaluable in my career in agriculture. Plus, being a graduate of OAC provided an immediate introduction and connection to others in the agriculture industry who graduated from the same school."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PHRN now has a website (www.uoguelph.ca/phrn), and a Twitter account will follow, which will highlight network information, news and events.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In A NUTSHELL

PHRN members have expertise in:

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

Current Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points Assessment as a Tool to Respond to Emerging Infectious Disease Outbreaks’ by Kelly L. Edmunds, Paul R. Hunter, Roger Few and Diana J.Bell, was published in the journal PLOS ONE on August 14, 2013.
Published in Environment

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