U.S. egg producers have a wider selection of strains although these are supplied by two dominant primary breeders. Consolidation within the industry over the past twenty years has resulted in the demise of a number of independents both in the U.S. and Europe. Fortunately, the large companies, which acquired their smaller competitors, retained their gene pools and judiciously incorporated beneficial traits into their programs.
Hy-Line International is a subsidiary of Lohmann Tierzucht (Lohmann Breeding Company) of Germany. The holding company recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and has attained the status of a major world force in poultry breeding in both egg and broiler segments. Hy-Line International, the U.S. company, operates an independent breeding program, but the technical resources of the parent company are combined in some joint projects which have mutually beneficial advantages to all stakeholders.
Lohmann and its U.S. subsidiary base their activities on three pillars which comprise of the application of cutting edge genetic technology, maximization of disease control and partnering with the industry with respect to selecting and evaluating performance and strain characteristics. Their product profile consists of the Hy-Line W-36 white egg strain, the Hy-Line brown egg strain and the Hy-Line W-98, which is selected for optimal egg mass.
Hendrix Genetics is a multi-species breeder of egg production strains, turkeys and swine, with headquarters in Holland. The company has expanded its operations since re-acquiring the breeding business previously operated by Nutreco, with a current portfolio of brands including ISA of France and DeKalb, Shaver and Babcock of the U.S. Currently the company operates primary breeding programs for egg production strains in the Netherlands, France and Canada.
Hendrix Genetics has centralized operations in Canada for North and Central America, Japan, New Zealand and other nations of the Pacific Rim. Parent stock chicks are distributed from Ontario to affiliated hatcheries and customers in their area of operations. These include the Midwest Food Association, Morris Hatchery in Georgia, West Wind Farms in New York and Merrill Farms in Idaho, among others.
The situation with regard to the current Hendrix Genetics strains in North America has been recently rationalized. Midwest Foods Association, a cooperative purchasing group, operates parent stock farms and makes use of company farms and contractors to produce Shaver and ISA brown commercial chicks hatched and distributed from Midwest Farms located in Blackstone, Va. Centurion Poultry operates parent stock under the Bovans white and brown strains, white egg strain and the Amberlink brown egg strain in DeKalb, Texas.
Challenges facing primary breeders
The major traits of concern to the industry are incorporated into sophisticated selection programs, which weight attributes to, such as egg numbers, livability, feed conversion efficiency, shell and internal quality, egg mass and yield. Changes in the structure of the industry also require attention to less heritable characteristics including behavior, adaptability to floor and cage systems, use of nests, pullet weight gain and conformation, retention of plumage and the ability to efficiently convert critical amino acids in feed into eggs.
In addition to conventional index selection, geneticists are now applying molecular biology to identify individuals, families and lines with desired characteristics. Application of SNIP (single nucleotide polymorphism) analyses is contributing to an advance in the rate of selection for desirable characteristics. Both major breeding companies have extensive in-house and cooperative programs with universities and research institutions.
Based on the reality that 30% of eggs produced in the U.S. are broken for further processing, breeders are attempting to address the needs of this significant segment of the market. It is possible that within five to ten years specific strains will be developed to satisfy the requirements for breaking with respect to production, yield and quality characteristics.
All breeders maintain cooperative evaluation programs with selected representative producers. New strains are tested under field conditions and the results are correlated with data from controlled studies. This ensures that both beneficial and adverse traits can be quantified in the field using large flocks under diverse climatic and housing conditions before general release.
It is axiomatic that the genetic potential of available breeders is seldom achieved under commercial conditions. Restraints imposed by disease challenge, housing, nutrition, climatic extremes, parasites and management deficiencies all detract from optimal production. The technical service activities of the primary breeders are extended to producers in an attempt to bridge the gap between genotype and phenotype. This is constantly narrowing even as genetic progress is made.
The primary breeders have a considerable investment in personnel, facilities and equipment. It is necessary to commit resources and establish parameters for a selection program at least four years in advance of marketing commercial level stock.
Geneticists have to integrate advanced science, practical selection and forecasts of consumer trends in making decisions which may represent the difference between commercial acceptance or relegation to a non-viable status. The complexity and cost associated with breeding relative to the return in a competitive environment has been the major driver for consolidation and acquisition.