Poultry nutrition is "on the cusp" of breakthroughs that will make production more efficient, according to Dr Peter Ferket, professor of poultry science, North Carolina State University. "Efficiency has become the mantra of everyone" because of the economic crisis, Ferket said at the first WATT Online Animal Nutrition and Health Forum April 29. (To view his entire presentation, and of others, go to www.wattevents.com. The presentation will be available until July 28.)

Here is Ferket's Top 10 list of future developments:

1. Computerised knowledge to optimise poultry nutritional programmes. Examples of this are simulation modelling, which would measure how potential changes would impact flock performance, risk measurement and holistic analysis.

2. Replacement of ingredients. In the US, the list of alternative feed ingredients is not very long, Ferket said, but new ingredients are becoming more important due to the growth of biofuels. Many research projects, he said, are being conducted on using distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS).

The key reason for the push on DDGS research is that in 2005, the US biofuels mandate called for 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol, but by 2017, the mandate calls for 35 billion gallons of ethanol, which would take "100% of the corn crop that we have right now". The result is that less corn but far greater quantities of DDGS is becoming available for animal feed. Experts say it "will take a while" for cellulosic ethanol to be cost competitive, Ferket stated.

3. The enhanced nutritional value of feed by enzyme supplementation. The more enzymes are studied, "the more we will understand" how they operate under different situations and combinations. Feed enzymes have the potential to reduce effects of antinutritional factors, render nutrients more available for digestion and absorption, increase energy value of feed ingredients and allow for greater flexibility in feed formulation, thus reducing formulation costs and modulating or stabilising gut microflora.

4. Nutritional effects on gut ecology. "We'll see lots of research" on gut health, Ferket said, and its linkage to productivity and overall health. He noted that the enteric ecosystem consumes 20% of the dietary energy, has a protein turnover rate of 70% per day, contains more than 70% of the immune cells found in the body and there are 10 times more bacterial cells in the gut than in all the cells of the chicken. The focus will be on what nutritional strategies can modulate intestinal microflora and promote gut health.

5. Nutritional modulation of gut health. One question researchers will be looking at, Ferket said, is: "How do we define and measure gut health?"

6. Pronutrient synergy. Potential synergistic effects of pronutrients on gut health include inflammatory response reduced, protective barrier enhanced, microbial ecology stabilised and nutrient absorption function improved.

7. Feed science and nutrient stabilisation. Improved pellet quality will increase efficiency, Ferket noted.

What's responsible for the dramatic increase in productivity? In Ferket's view, 85% to 90% is due to improved genetics, with 10% to 15% because of changes in nutrition and management

8. Neonatal and perinatal nutrition. He said that in 1957, the incubation/neonate stage represented 25% of a broiler's life, but in 2009, it's 50%. Genetic growth potential depends on early nutrition. This includes nutrient uptake, environmental stress, disease resistance and the development of immunity and stable gut microflora.

The following dietary factors affect enteric development, he said: butyric acid and other organic acid derivatives, nucleic acid and yeast-derived products, organic trace minerals, essential oils and prebiotics and probiotics. Ferket also said that in ovo feeding increases the energy status of embryos and hatching chicks.


9. Nutrigenomics. Epigenetics, he says, is defined as any heritable influence on gene activity that does not involve a change in DNA sequence.

10. Epigenetic programming. The critical periods of epigenetic programming, Ferket said, are breeder development and perinatal development. In addition to these 10 ideas, Ferket stated that four trends will occur in poultry nutrition:

  • An increased focus on production efficiency;
  • Biosecurity and food safety;
  • Environmental stewardship; and
  • Animal welfare and health.

He said that it's important to take a step back to how the industry has changed over the past 50 or more years as a guide to what's in store for the future. In the 1950s, he said, feed conversion for broilers was 2.35lbs of feed per pound of meat, while today it's approaching 1.65lbs. For turkeys, feed conversion has been reduced from 3lbs to 2.55, while for layers, average production per hen in the US has increased by 64%.

What's responsible for the dramatic increase in productivity? In Ferket's view, 85% to 90% is due to improved genetics, with 10% to 15% because of changes in nutrition and management.

Despite such past innovations, Ferket said he "disagrees with those who say the best is behind us. We're just at the beginning of a huge revolution in poultry nutrition and health."

Gut health is a hot topic

A "hot topic" today, Ferket said, is gut health. "We're at a crossroads," he said, "a critical time with tremendous economic challenge."

He sees some contemporary challenges:

Economic sustainability. Some "companies will fall because they can't sustain a certain way of doing business";

Consumer confidence. While consumers have a high confidence in poultry, "we have to sustain that. There have been crises in pet food and peanut butter, and in the past we've had our own"; Food security;

The information explosion and the fact that a lot of information "is not very good"; and Global trade is becoming an issue. "We have to make sure our production system" fits what foreign buyers want.