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Aiming to Give Broilers and Turkeys the Best Start in Life

02 April 2014

The growing period for broilers is short so it makes economic and managerial sense to give the chicks the very best start in life, writes Jackie Linden. A selection of the papers presented at the International Poultry Scientific Forum offers an impression of the range of the latest research into breeder, hatchery and brooding management.

Supplementation of Breeder Diets with Nucleotides

A study1 reported by Melina Aparecida Bonato of ICC Industrial Comércio Exportação e Importação Ltda in Brazil demonstrated that supplementation of nucleotides to broiler breeders increased the number of live chicks by six per cent as well as having a positive carry-over on the bodyweight gain and feed conversion of the progeny.

The nucleotides were derived from a yeast source (Hilyses/ICC). Two trials were conducted, the first trial with 80 broiler breeder females (Cobb), from 25 to 45 weeks of age and the other with two groups of 150 male chicks; one group originated from breeders fed nucleotide-supplemented diets and the other group originated from the breeders not given dietary nucleotides.

Nucleotide supplementation in the diet of the breeders improved (P<0.05) egg production (+1.6 per cent), egg fertility (+1.7 per cent), hatchability of incubated eggs (+4.1 per cent) and hatchability of fertile eggs (+2.3 per cent)

Offspring from 35-week-old breeders fed diets supplemented with nucleotides had improved (P<0.05) bodyweight gain (3.45kg versus 3.30kg) and feed:gain ratio (1.61 versus 1.66) compared with chicks from breeders not supplemented dietary nucleotides.

Progeny from 45-week-old breeders fed dietary nucleotides also had better (P<0.05) bodyweight gain (3.46kg versus 3.24kg) and feed conversion (1.60 versus 1.70) than those from the control breeders.

Breeder Diet Supplementation with Antioxidants and Vitamin D3

The importance of the maternal supplementation of antioxidants (canthaxanthin) and adequate levels of vitamin D3 metabolite on the progeny was demonstrated in a study2 reported by Lucio Araujo of the University of São Paulo.

In a study together with DSM Nutritional Products, performance and carcass characteristics of progeny were evaluated from broiler breeders fed additional canthaxanthin (6ppm) and 25-hydroxycholecalciferol (69 mg/ton) were evaluated. For the first 21 days of life, the progeny were also fed diets supplemented with canthaxanthin and/or vitamin D3 metabolite.

The best weight gain, feed conversion, carcass yield and breast meat yield were observed when both nutrients were included in the diets of breeders and progeny.

Control of Novel Reovirus in Broilers by Breeder Vaccination

Since summer 2011, an increase in clinical manifestations associated with early reovirus infection have been observed in broiler breeder and commercial broiler flocks, according to Ivan Alvarado of Merck Animal Health.

Affected broiler flocks typically have reduced bodyweights, poor uniformity, higher feed conversion and more condemnations at processing. Avian reovirus strains isolated from diagnostic samples have been characterised by sequencing the Sigma C gene in two unique molecular groups, which differ significantly from commercial vaccines.

In this study3, carried out with researchers from Sanderson Farms and the University of Georgia, the level of maternal antibodies was evaluated in day-old progeny from broiler breeders vaccinated with traditional (live and inactivated) or traditional and autogenous inactivated vaccines containing a molecular variant group 1 reovirus isolate (MG1).

Also determined was the level of protection against clinical manifestations associated with a MG1 by maternally derived antibodies in progeny from breeders vaccinated with traditional and the autogenous MG1 inactivated vaccine.

The researchers observed a significant increase in antibody titres (using ELISA) in broiler breeders vaccinated with an autogenous inactivated vaccine and in their progeny.

Broiler Feathering Affected by Incubation Temperature

Feathering is important in broilers because it affects the bird's ability for thermoregulation as well as protecting the skin from litter contact and scratches from other broilers, explained Jenna Scott.

Her research4 at the Prestage Department of Poultry Science at North Carolina State University confirms that incubation temperature affects feathering development, and suggests that the effect may be stronger in progeny from breeders fed restricted amounts under skip-a-day (SAD) feeding programmes.

Eggs from each group were collected at 60 weeks and randomly divided and incubated according
to two incubation temperature profiles: standard (S) eggshell tmeperature (38.1°C) and early-low late-high (LH). This second profile had low (36.9°C) eggshell temperature during the first three days and standard temperature until the last three days, when eggs endured elevated (38.9°C) eggshell temperature.

In one experiment, the number of feather follicles (FF) was counted to determine possible carryover effects of breeder feed restriction programmes and incubation temperatures on feather density of progeny at 22 days of age.

Results indicated an interaction (P<0.01) on feather follicle numbers in the dorsal area. Progeny from breeders under SAD had more feather follicles when incubated under the LH conditions.

No effect of incubation was observed on progeny of EDF.

The LH incubation also increased (P<0.01) feather follicles in the thigh area, independently of breeder treatment.

In the breast area, chickens incubated under S conditions had more feather follicles (P<0.001) than those from LH treatment, independently of breeder treatment.

The findings may be applied to minimise carcass scratches and improve broiler welfare, added Ms Scott.

Drinking Water Temperature During Brooding

Results of new research5 at the University of Arkansas indicate that the temperature of drinking water during the brooding stage may impact broiler live weights.

That was the conclusion drawn by Christopher Eagleson from the results of a trial to determine if the temperature of drinking water during the first four days of life impacts performance.

The three water treatments provided were water temperature 40°F (4.4°C), 70°F (21.1°C) or 100°F (37.8°C). Water temperature was monitored every hour and adjusted as necessary during the 72-hour treatment period to ensure that the temperature remained near the target.

Each pen of 25 chicks was provided feed and water ad libitum throughout the grow-out period (42 days) and birds received a diet series based on the breeder's nutritional standards. All birds received a coccidiosis vaccine on day one. All other aspects of the grow-out were according to industry standards.

Chicks receiving the warmest water were significantly lighter (P<0.03) than the other treatments on day 14 (501, 501 and 463g, respectively).

While no significant differences were seen with feed conversion or average weights for days 7, 31 and 42, that group had numerically lower weights.

In-ovo Probiotics for Turkey Poults

In-ovo administration of probiotics to turkey eggs during incubation can be safe and effectively increase the bacterial load in the intestine without adversely affecting hatchability or poult survival, reported Robert Van Wyhe of Michigan State University. The procedure did not offset delayed access to feed, he added.

Measures are taken to ensure that bacteria do not enter the egg and kill the embryo during incubation, he explained, but probiotic bacteria have been shown to confer numerous benefits, and inclusion in the egg could provide advantageous to the poult after hatching.

The Lansing study6 aimed to determine both the effect of in-ovo probiotics on poult hatchability and livability and whether a probiotic injection could mitigate the effects of delayed access to feed.

Three groups of 330 commercial turkey eggs were weighed, assigned to treatments, and incubated under standard conditions for 24 days. The initial placement of each group of eggs in the incubator was offset by 24 hours.

On the 24th day of incubation, eggs were removed from the incubator and assigned to one of three treatments: non-injected control (Con), probiotic injection (Pro) or saline injection (Sal). Eggs in the Pro treatment were inoculated with 1ml of a probiotic that included Lactobacillus spp., Enterococcus spp., Bifidobacteria spp. and Pedicoccus spp. bacteria at a combined concentration of 106 colony-forming units (cfu) per ml.

On incubation day 28 for each group, hatch counts were recorded. At day of hatch of the third group, when groups 1 and 2 were 24 and 48 hours off feed, two birds per treatment were euthanised and intestinal contents collected. The remainder of the birds from all groups were placed on a starter diet for one week.

Hatchability and yolk-free hatch weights were not affected by injection but residual yolk weight was reduced by 3g for each 24 hours of the delay in access to feed.

The Pro had a 10-fold increase in bacterial load in the caecal contents compared to the other groups.

Protein Metabolism in Breeder Hens

Protein turnover in skeletal tissue for broiler breeders has been shown to increase at sexual maturity and then decline with increased egg production.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas believe the increased protein degradation rate at sexual maturity is to provide amino acids for egg production, explained Karen Vignale, so they set out to evaluate protein turnover in two broiler breeder pure lines during sexual maturity transition and
throughout production7.

They found a significant effect of age on fractional breakdown rate (FBR). FBR in breast skeletal tissue increased from 22 weeks of age to sexual maturity and again from week 27 (first egg) to week 33 (peak lay) and then it declined.

There were no significant differences for leg Fractional Synthesis Rate (FSR) rate between lines and ages. Leg FBR statistically increased from weeks 27 to 37 and declined thereafter.

There is a large increase in FBR during the transition for the pullet to sexual maturity with a further increase to peak egg production, which is related to a decreased in lean mass body content during this period of time, concluded the Fayetteville-based group.


  1. Bonato M.A., L.F. Araújo, G.D. Santos, T. Lohrmann and R.L.C. Barbalho. T131 Nucleotide supplementation in the diet of broiler breeders and their effect on hatchability and subsequent progeny performance.
  2. Araujo L., C. Araujo, R. Hermes and I. Bittar. T133 Performance and carcass characteristics of broiler breeder progeny fed canthaxanthin and 25-hydroxycholecalciferol.
  3. Alvarado I., P. Stayer, E. Riley, D. French and H. Sellers. T97 Evaluation of progeny protection against a novel reovirus strain associated with lameness and poor performance.
  4. Scott J., M.J. Da Costa and E.O. Oviedo-Rondón. M40 Incubation temperature profiles affect broiler feathering.
  5. Eagleson C., S. Watkins, T. Clark, M. Frank and A. Beitia. M32 Impact of drinking water temperature during brooding stage on body weights of broiler chicks.
  6. Van Wyhe R. and D. Karcher. M33 Turkey poult hatchability and livability: The effect of in-ovo probiotics.
  7. Vignale K., J. Caldas, J. England, N. Boonsinchai, P. Sodsee, E. Pollock and C. Coon. T132 The effect of sexual maturity and egg production on protein turnover in broiler breeder pure lines.

All papers were presented at the 2014 International Poultry Scientific Forum in Atlanta, Georgia, US in January 2014.

April 2014

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