Hens get cracking
A new generation of broiler breeders could improve both hen reproductive capacity and feed costs
Edmonton, Alta. – A University of Alberta researcher has found that how hens are fed can have an impact on their reproductive capacity.
Martin Zuidhof, a researcher at the university’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES), received funding to develop a precision broiler breeder feeding system, which gives chickens a certain amount of feed at specific times, reports the University of Alberta.
“In Alberta, hatching egg producers are getting on average about 115 chicks per hen,” says Zuidhof.
“When I was in Columbia in April, I was talking to their producers and they’re averaging 145 chicks per hen. That’s a 30-chicks-per-hen difference. That’s a huge potential that we’re not achieving here in Alberta and a lot of that has to do with feed distribution, which is what this system addresses.”
Feed affects productivity
Zuidhof, who is working closely with the Alberta Hatching Egg Producers on this project, says that feed distribution is one of the most difficult aspects to get right, since too little or too much feed can have a negative effect on the productivity of the birds, says the University of Alberta.
If the new broiler breeders are successful, it could have a significant impact on the hatching egg industry in terms of both chick productivity and feed costs.
Zuidhof says he expects to see a five per cent improvement in feed efficiency, which means if the Canadian industry were to adopt this technology entirely, it would save 35,000 tons of feed per year.
New feeding system
The development of the new precision broiler breeder feeding system is the result of 20 years of research by Zuidhof, during which he worked with a team led by poultry researcher and current Dean of Students Frank Robinson to evaluate things like photostimulation and light management as they apply to feed allocation.
The system will allow them to manage the birds as individuals, which will improve their welfare while maximizing their potential.
After a contribution of more than $400,000 by the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency Ltd. to the project, the last of the needed funding was acquired from the Agriculture and Food Council of Alberta, which invested $240,000 in the project.
Zuidhof says a mechanical prototype of the system could be completed by the end of July.