Current economics and questions surrounding the future of food agriculture are hot topics for people in the poultry industry today. To address these topics, the Poultry Science Association recently sponsored a symposium in St. Louis addressing the future of the poultry industry.

Experts in poultry science examined the fields of genetics (Dr. Jim McKay, Aviagen), nutrition (Dr. Steve Leeson, University of Guelph), hatchery management (Dr. Mike Wineland, North Carolina State University), vaccination/immune modulation (Dr. Hyun Lillehoj, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service), coccidiosis control (Dr. Greg Mathis, Southern Poultry Research) and antibiotic use (Dr. Bernadette Dunham, FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine).

Tapping the genetic potential  

The poultry industry has been extremely successful in supplying food for our nation while keeping the cost reasonable for consumers. After all, poultry is the most consumed meat in the United States. The reason the industry has been so successful is improvements in genetic potential of breeds to achieve efficient production standards with proper nutrition, environmental management and health.

Efficiency of poultry production involves less feed while maintaining the same growth rates, less environmental impact, more affordable products for consumers, less waste produced and more sustainable production. However, there are still continued challenges to poultry production. According to Lillehoj, these challenges include, but are not limited to, climate change, global food security and biosecurity.

More specifically, noted McKay, challenges can include demands for “clean stock” from consumers, producers, national programs and international trade. In addition, birds have to perform under a wide range of disease and environmental challenges.

Based upon the overall conclusions of the symposium, genetics is critical to the successful future of the industry. According to Leeson, genetics account for 90% of the current and future status of the poultry industry, while the remaining criteria of nutrition (5%), environment (3%) and health (2%) are considered supporting roles.

In light of these conclusions, genetics and selection for robustness is the key for the poultry industry in the next five years. Selection of birds for robustness includes research in selection for improved immune response, freedom from metabolic disease and challenge testing. Genetic research in these target areas, combined with heath, nutrition, environment and management, will be what provides future success to the industry.

Nutrition plays supporting role  

With good genetic selection in mind, nutrition becomes a critical supporting role in the future of the industry. Leeson focused on current societal issues of antibiotic growth promoters, traceability, microbial control, ethanol biodiesel and ingredients in feed. According to him, a balance of science versus societal issues is needed. For example, performance versus profitability; traditional versus AGP use; and quantity versus quality are all questions that need to be addressed.

With improved nutrition, birds are reaching target slaughter weights earlier. With this in mind, the greatest limitation and challenge for broilers from a nutritional standpoint will be calcium metabolism for skeletal integrity to allow bones to withstand processing machines. With layers, the challenge will be eggshell quality in addition to skeletal integrity. Therefore, research has recently been focused in this area.

Hatchery management challenges  

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Hatchery management is another critical component to the future of the industry. The average broiler hatch is about 85% to 86% with proper management. Wineland said hatchery management is not only about increasing the hatch rate but also to ensure the chicks that do hatch perform better in the field. Previous research has indicated that incubation affects bird performance including, but not limited to, muscle development, immune status, gut health and yield.

With improved genetics, and different breeds available to the industry for specific needs, one hatchery challenge is achieving an understanding of the current breeds’ response to incubation and that different breeds may need different incubation parameters. Another important challenge is that hatcheries have to be able to meet the needs of the developing embryo during all phases of development. For this reason, the industry may see an increase in single-stage incubation.

Bird health through immune modulation, coccidiosis control  

The final speakers in the symposium dedicated time to other important support areas, including bird health through immune modulation, coccidiosis control and antibiotic use.

Lillehoj focused on the future of using immune modulation. The concept is to provide the birds nutritional ingredients that interact with immune cells to initiate a defense response. By improving immune response, the bird will be able to have better health and respond to its genetic predisposition through good nutrition and management. In this regard, current research is focusing on the use of probiotics and prebiotics, bacteriophages, essential oils and herbs and bioactive phytochemicals.

The recent withdrawal from the market of 3-Nitro (Roxarsone) as a coccidiosis control by Pfizer was a response to consumer concerns about using an arsenic compound in poultry feed. This loss will drive future studies for coccidiosis control in the poultry industry.

Coccidiosis control is a $90 million industry in the USA and a $3 billion industry worldwide. According to Mathis, there can be greater than 700 trillion oocytes in a 40-ft. by 400-ft. house at one time. With those numbers in mind, we can see how the future of the industry will be focused on continued coccidiosis control.

Dunham also indicated that ingredient additives will have to be the future of the poultry industry to control health. Even though some of these replacements will not be as good as 3-Nitro and antibiotics, the response to consumer groups is clear and research to define replacements will be important to the future of the industry.

Feeding the world efficiently  

Even with all of the limitations and concerns, it is important to remember that the poultry industry has been very successful in all of the aspects discussed above. The industry is now able to produce a 2.5 kg male broiler at 35 days of age, a 20 kg turkey at 20 weeks of age and 335 eggs in 365 days.

All of this success has allowed the industry to feed the population of the U.S. and abroad in a safe and efficient manner. So, even though challenges do exist, the outlook is for a profitable, safe and efficient poultry industry.