University of Guelph: Key Player in Canadian Poultry Research

CANADA - University of Guelph scientists are playing key roles in studies being conducted through a national Poultry Science Cluster, designed to help the poultry industry stay competitive and address consumer concerns about animal welfare and environmental preservation.
calendar icon 27 February 2014
clock icon 5 minute read

Seven projects being led by researchers at the university’s Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) and the College of Physical and Engineering Science will receive a total of C$3.1 million of the cluster’s latest C$5.6-million funding allocation. The cluster will receive C$4 million from the Canadian government, with the remainder coming from the poultry sector, Gerry Ritz, federal minister of agriculture and food, recently announced.

The University of Guelph has a breadth of expertise in poultry research. Recipients include members of the Poultry Health Research Network (PHRN) which brings together poultry researchers and poultry health specialists who address a wide range of issues – from basic biology, to environmental concerns, to poultry disease, production and welfare.

Bruce Roberts, executive director of the Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC), said: “The Network helps bring co-ordination and co-operation into poultry research. We want to see researchers working together, it makes them more powerful.” The CPRC will administer the research funds for the cluster on behalf of its five members: Chicken Farmers of Canada, Canadian Hatching Egg Producers, Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council, Egg Farmers of Canada and Turkey Farmers of Canada.

At OVC, Dr John Prescott is continuing work on understanding and controlling the bacterial cause of necrotic enteritis in chickens. Prescott is using sophisticated molecular methods to identify genes important in disease, and engineering an attenuated live oral Clostridium perfringens vaccine.

Drs Shayan Sharif and Eva Nagy of OVC and Dr Abdul-Careem of the University of Calgary are collaborating on a project to better understand how chickens respond to avian influenza viruses, use this information to develop better methods to control these viruses and bring vaccines and vaccine platforms one step closer to the market.

Dr Michele Guerin is co-investigator of a project led by Dr Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt, University of Montreal, examining the level of contamination caused by biosecurity breaches at barn entrances, evaluating sanitation procedures to mitigate them, and then determining how pathogen loads are affected by current barn sanitation procedures. Other collaborators include Dr Patrick Boerlin, OVC, and Dr. Mansel Griffiths, OAC.

In OAC, Dr Gregoy Bedecarrats is validating a new low-energy LED light bulb designed to enhance commercial egg laying. After investigating the effects of light wavelength on reproduction and behaviour of layers, Dr Bedecarrats partnered with industry to design the novel LED bulb. A commercial version is being field tested now as part of this cluster project.

Environmental challenges or stressors experienced by a mother hen can affect the general development of her offspring thereby affecting fearfulness, cognitive abilities and social behaviour.

Dr Tina Widowski is leading a project studying the transfer of behavioural traits and stress susceptibility from breeder hens to their offspring through changes in egg composition and epigenetic mechanisms. The study also aims to determine whether egg traits and offspring behaviour differ with age of breeder flock and whether some genotypes are more sensitive to these effects than others.

Dr Alexandra Harlander is leading a study to determine the impact of ammonia on poultry welfare. This innovative project will study how birds respond to manure, what these responses reveal about their health and welfare, and how to design housing with regard to manure management to improve bird welfare. Overall, this research will help determine the best housing environments to enhance bird welfare.

Dr Harlander is also leading a study looking at flight and locomotion in laying hens. Recent research indicates a significant rate of keel bone fractures in multi-tier housing, caused when hens jump up or down or fly incorrectly from litter to raised perches, tiers or nest boxes. This research will study pullet and laying hens locomotive development and skills and assess differences in them with the view to improving non-cage systems to avoid welfare problems such as keel injuries.

In the College of Physical and Engineering Science, Dr Bill Van Heyst is evaluating control strategies to reduce emissions of particulate matter and ammonia from poultry operations. This is a continuation of research he completed that was co-funded by CPRC.

Overall, the cluster will support 17 poultry studies by 59 researchers across Canada, at Guelph and at the universities of Alberta, Manitoba, Montreal, Ottawa and Saskatchewan, as well as at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research facilities.

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