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Electrolyte Balance of Broiler Breeders

13 October 2016

GLOBAL - The broiler breeder’s requirement for sodium (Na), chlorine (Cl) and potassium (K) should not be considered individually but as a whole.

A balanced supply of cations (positively charged ions Na+ and K+) and anions (negatively charged ions Cl-) is necessary to achieve acid-base equilibrium of the bird. This is calculated using the formula Na plus K minus Cl, expressed as milliequivalents per kilogram (mEq/kg) of the diet and is called the electrolyte balance.

Correct electrolyte balance is required to regulate water levels and pH throughout the body. An imbalance can lead to tibia dyschondroplasia and respiratory alkalosis which may negatively impact egg shell quality.

Deficiencies in Na and Cl can result in cannibalism and reduced egg production, while birds lacking K coming into lay are susceptible to sudden death syndrome due to osmotic imbalance disturbing normal heart function.

In ad lib fed birds such deficiencies are rare under normal conditions. However, broiler breeders are more at risk due to lower protein formulations and different feeding strategies. For this reason there is some uncertainty around the correct electrolyte balance for broiler breeders, especially during egg production.

In a recent trial conducted by Aviagen® the response of hens to three levels of electrolyte balance (170, 200 and 230 mEq/kg) during the laying phase was investigated. Differences in electrolyte balance were achieved by manipulating K and Cl. Egg production and egg weights were not affected by treatment. The 230 mEq/kg treatments resulted in a lower percentage of cracked eggs.

Later in production, and when environmental temperatures were high enough to provoke heat stress, a higher cumulative chick number was also observed in the 230 mEq/kg treatments. In late production, liveability in flocks was positively influenced in treatments with higher K levels (>0.65 per cent) in the diet.

The results of this trial suggest that formulating to a higher electrolyte balance by increasing K may be advantageous for broiler breeders during heat stress. Under normal conditions ensuring an electrolyte balance of between 170 and 200 mEq/kg with a minimum K level of 0.6 per cent in the feed is sufficient to ensure good flock performance.


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