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In ovo feeding predicted to drive genetic potential of birds in future

Feeding chicks in ovo and imprinting behavior through diet in the first days of life will help producers get the most from broilers’ genetic potential in future, says a leading poultry nutritionist.

Peter Ferket, professor of nutrition and biotechnology at North Carolina State University, said early-life nutrition is key to helping birds grow better and handle health challenges, reports Poultry World. Furthermore, adopting techniques that program bird digestion from the outset could help birds fulfil their genetic potential.

Speaking at the European Symposium on Poultry Nutrition, Ferket said nutrition and management have failed to keep pace with genetics in terms of driving performance and profits, and it was time to close the gap.

At current rates of genetic improvement, a 4kg bird at the age of 42 days was possible with a feed conversion rate approaching 1:1, he said.

A broiler’s early life was the time when performance could be best influenced, both in providing targeted nutrition and programming digestion for later life.

In ovo feeding, in which nutritional pre-mixes are genetically matched to a chick’s needs, has been found to deliver better villi growth and give more energy in the first hours of life, Ferket added.

Subsequently average body weights are improved, while skeletal development gets a head start.
“It changes behavior; right after hatch in ovo fed birds are more active, inquisitive and eat more feed,” he said. As a result, breast meat yield, growth rates and feed conversion can all be improved.

Ferket said his team is also working on “programming” bird digestion by conditioning diets shortly before and after hatching.

Studies have shown that chicks’ ability to utilize energy or tolerate immunological, environmental or oxidative stress are all influenced by early diet.

However, feeding such diets is a challenge in current hatchery set-ups, he added.

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