In-Ovo Feeding and the Promise of Perinatal Nutrition

The latest advances in in-ovo feeding were reviewed by two respected researchers in this field. Senior editor, Chris Wright, reports from the Alltech Symposium earlier this year.
calendar icon 10 August 2011
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A chick's first meal occurs when they consume the amnion fluid before internal pipping and in-ovo feeding may 'jump-start' development, improving the nutritional status of the newly hatched chick.

The benefits of in-ovo feeding (IOF) on early growth and development of poultry have been demonstrated by several experiments in our laboratories, said Peter R. Ferket, North Carolina State University and Zehava Uni Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot, Israel, during the Alltech International Nutrition Symposium in May 2011.

The incubation and neonatal periods account for about 50 per cent of the productive life of a two-kilogram market broiler. The perinatal period – the last four days before hatch through the first four days after hatch – is most critical for development and survival of commercial broilers; and it is the period during which nutritional conditioning and perinatal programming can occur.

The perinatal chick makes the metabolic and physiological transition from nutrition supplied in the egg to feed, and it is functionally 'programmed' to adapt to its environment.

A chick's first meal occurs when it consumes the amnion fluid before internal pipping – at about 18 days and 25 days of incubation in broilers and turkeys, respectively. Some critical nutrients in the amnion may be limited because of parental nutrition constraints related to weight control and egg production rate. Incubation distress can also adversely affect perinatal development by altering nutrient partitioning during the plateau stage of oxygen consumption. v When oxygen availability to the late-term embryo is limited by low egg conductance or poor incubator ventilation, embryos and hatchlings may suffer low glycogen status and impaired enteric development.


Supplementing the amnion with appropriate nutrients is a novel way to feed critical dietary components to embryos. Indeed this in-ovo feeding may 'jump-start' development, improving the nutritional status of the perinatal chick or poult by in ovo feeding yields several advantages.

These advantages include: improved digestive capacity; increased growth rate and feed efficiency; reduced post-hatch mortality and morbidity; improved immune response to enteric antigens; reduced incidence of developmental skeletal disorders; and increased muscle development and breast meat yield.

The benefits of in-ovo feeding on early growth and development of poultry have been demonstrated by several experiments in the authors' laboratories.

In-ovo feeding broilers and turkeys has increased hatching weights by one to seven per cent over controls, and this advantage has been observed to sustain until at least 35 days. The degree of response to in-ovo feeding may depend upon genetics, breeder hen age, egg size and incubation conditions.

In-ovo feeding of chicken, turkeys and duck embryos consistently accelerated the digestive and nutrient uptake capacity of the digestive tract during the perinatal period.

Positive Effects

Positive effects have been observed with solutions containing salt, sucrose, maltose, and dextrin β-hydroxy-β-methyl butyrate, arginine, egg white protein, and zinc methionine.

In ovo feeding has been observed to:

  • improve glycogen and metabolic energy status
  • increase hatchability
  • advance morphometic development of the intestinal tract and mucin barrier
  • enhance expression of genes for brush border enzymes (sucrase-isomaltase, leucine aminopeptidase) and their biological activity
  • enhance expression of nutrient transporters, SGLT-1, PEPT-1 and NaK ATPase
  • improve bone development and reduce leg asymmetry of hatchlings, and
  • increase breast muscle at hatch.

In-ovo feeding clearly advances the digestive capacity, energy status, and development of critical tissues of the perinatal chick or poultry about two to three days.

Thus, in ovo feeding technology has established a new science of perinatal nutrition that will open opportunities for greater production efficiency and animal welfare; it may be a necessary means to optimize poultry production.

August 2011

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