2014-02-03   facebook twitter rss

£400,000 to Give Broiler Breeder Chickens a Filling Diet

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has awarded £400,000 to researchers who will investigate how to improve the diets of broiler breeder chickens.

A team from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), Newcastle University, The Roslin Institute and Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland (BioSS) will study the birds’ behaviour, and their brain activity, to establish the best possible diet to keep them feeling full for longer.

~Broiler House

The life of broiler breeder chickens has long been a welfare issue for all those concerned in poultry production. Broiler breeders are the parents of those chickens grown for their meat and so share their potential for fast growth. However, while their offspring will be slaughtered after around six weeks, broiler breeders live much longer. Their growth up to puberty (at 20 weeks) is important because if their access to food is not controlled, they might grow obese when they are adult, which can lead to serious health problems. But if their diet becomes too restrictive, the birds are left feeling hungry, which has always troubled those involved in animal welfare.

Dr Rick D’Eath, who will be leading the project at Scotland’s Rural College, says: “This research will assess how the chickens are affected by different types and amounts of food. We need to understand how best to rear them from chick to adult, keeping them healthy without over or under feeding them.”

There may be better ways to raise the birds from chick onwards, and better diets to support their growth and the appetite they develop. Before puberty, birds are ration-fed, receiving as little as a quarter to a third as much food as they would choose to eat if allowed to feed freely from one day old.

A potential solution to the problem of hunger resulting from restricted feeding in broiler breeders is adding indigestible high fibre ingredients to their feed.

These can potentially make the chickens feel more satisfied and as they are very low energy they shouldn’t result in excessive weight gain. However, having a physically full gut is only one part of feeling satisfied and not hungry.

This project will also investigate the way in which different diets affect signs of hunger in the brain, the gut and in the birds’ behaviour, in order to better understand whether they genuinely feel less hungry when fed the newly designed diets. SRUC’s team will assess the behaviour aspect while The Roslin Institute and Newcastle University will provide expertise on brain and gut physiology, with experimental design advice and analysis provided by BioSS.

This improved understanding of hunger will be critical when the team test how satisfied chickens feel when fed on alternative diets, some of which have been tested already in other trials by the poultry industry to ensure the birds are healthy and laying well.

Dr D'Eath says: “The feeding of broiler breeder chickens is a welfare concern around the world. At the end of this three year project we hope to inform and influence future poultry industry guidance on feeding broiler breeders which could improve the welfare of millions of chickens around the world.”


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