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Estonia: Poultry Breeding

04 January 2013

Dr Matti Piirsalu, Board member of Estonian Poultry Society, describes the evolution of the poultry industry in Estonia since 1960 in a report entitled 'Animal Breeding in Estonia 2004–2011' from Estonian Animal Breeding Association.

The numerous contemporary breeds of poultry have been developed from their domesticated ancestors through multiple selection and crossing procedures under different environmental conditions. The diversity within domestic chicken is extensive, whereas more than 100 crosses are grown commercially all over the world. Poultry breeding is a highly specialised industry. There are only around 10 major poultry breeding companies worldwide which produce almost 90 per cent of the breeding material.


Chicken farming is the leading branch of poultry industry
(A. Tänavots)



The first ostriches in Estonia (Vilsandi, 1999)
(H. Tikk)

In Estonia, the most well-known foreign companies for breeding egg-layer chicken are Lohmann, ISA, De Kalb, and Hy Line. The top breeding companies for producing meattype chicken include Cobb, ISA, and ROSS, also Eubrid from earlier times. The breeding goals have been focused on improving feed conversion, productivity and liveability.

Until 1960, there was only one farm in Estonia concentrating on breeding elite chicken – the Kurtna Poultry Breeding Experiment Station in Harju County, where White Leghorn, New Hampshire, and Australorp breeds were raised. In 1961, the other breeding centre was established at the Järlepa Poultry Breeding Farm in Rapla County, which started its breeding work using Sussex, Cornish and White tailed red chickens, imported from England. In the early 1960s, the farm for elite Embden geese existed at Kurtna as well.

In 1963, besides the above two, there were 118 reproduction farms for hens, five for geese and one for turkeys.

In 1965, a pedigree poultry breeding system was adopted and applied for both egg and poultry meat production. Three enterprises were designated as specialized poultry breeding institutions: the Kurtna Poultry Breeding Experiment Station, the Järlepa Poultry Breeding Farm, and the Sakala Poultry Breeding Farm. The duties of the enterprises included developing specialized lines for obtaining high performance poultry, improving the existing lines, introducing new combinations (crosses) suitable for combining and crossing lines, and preserving the most valuable traits of the imported lines.

Prior to its commercial use, the breeding material was evaluated at the Kehtna Poultry Testing Station where performance testing of laying hens was carried out from 1966 till its liquidation in 2000. The results obtained were distributed to all poultry farms, whereas the pedigree breeding farms arranged for delivering the suitable initial lines or parent forms of hen crosses to reproduction farms. The latter were responsible for preserving the breed value of chicken originating from breeding lines of high quality via mass selection and granting favourable feeding and keeping conditions.

Between 1968 and 1972, the system of breeding and reproduction farms was restructured to fully meet the requirements of Estonian poultry breeders, but also to permit export sales of pedigree chicks and hatching eggs to neighbouring countries.


Nandus at Jaaniraotu Farm
(H. Tikk)



Hungarian geese for Christmas sales in Estonia
(H. Tikk)

The professional organization of poultry breeding was set up in Estonia by 1968 when the Poultry Breeding Board was founded that co-ordinated poultry breeding until 1989. From December 1989, its functions were delegated to the Estonian Poultry Society, a poultry breeders’ organization originally established on 21 December 1919. The Society was liquidated during the Soviet regime, and re-established on 21 December 1989.

In 1991, Estonia regained its independence, whereas state-controlled economy gave way to the free market system. Poultry breeding enterprises were privatised, which significantly broadened the opportunities for sourcing high quality pedigree material. The step-by-step shift towards free market prices and competition brought along major changes in poultry breeding. It was impossible to reach the productivity standards set by leading European producers, using only domestic pedigree material.

Extensive use of imported pedigree chicken for renewing pedigree flocks provides a good opportunity for Estonian poultry breeders to maintain the high productivity levels of poultry production. Currently, pedigree material from the stock flocks of´the best foreign breeding companies is being imported to be used for reproducing flocks of both egg- and meat-type chicken. This enables Estonian poultry industry to keep up with the increasing competition in the European market.

Table 1 comprises data on chicken numbers as well as production capacity/volumes and productivity for 2005 to 2010.


Table 1. Annual poultry numbers and production in 2005–2010, as of 31 December
(Source: Statistics Estonia; Estonian Poultry Society)

As a result of using high-performance imported chicken crosses, the yearly average egg production per hen has increased from 255 eggs in 1995 up to 265 in 2010. Within the same period of time, the daily weight gain of chicken broilers has increased from 27g to 59g, i.e. over two times. It can be concluded, that breeding success has really been impressive.

Ross 308 is currently the only cross of chicken being used in breeding meat-type chicken.

As of 1 May 2011, the percentage composition of the breeding material of egg-type crosses of hens was as follows: Hy- Line brown 48 per cent, Hy-Line white 45 per cent, Hisex brown 4 per cent, Hisex white 1 per cent, and Lohmann LSL 2 per cent.

In 2011, there are three certified pedigree flocks in Estonia. Over the recent years the best parent stock of meat-type chicken has been kept by Estonia's leading poultry farming company AS Tallegg. Their cross of meat-type chicken Ross 308 scored 91.5 points of the possible 100 from the evaluation commission.

January 2013



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