Future directions of poultry production highlighted at World Nutrition Forum

The Biomin World Nutrition Forum, held in Singapore in October 2012, looked at broad issues of relevance to meat production as a whole, and focused on aspects of production of particular interest to the poultry industry. Speakers were drawn from across industries, and looked at issues along the whole production chain right through to the final consumer.

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Randolph D. Mitchell of Perdue Farms noted that we must truly think differently to solve today's problems.
Randolph D. Mitchell of Perdue Farms noted that we must truly think differently to solve today's problems.

The Biomin World Nutrition Forum, held in Singapore in October 2012, looked at broad issues of relevance to meat production as a whole and focused on aspects of production of particular interest to the poultry industry.

Speakers were drawn from across industries to look at issues along the whole production chain right through to the final consumer.

What do consumers want?

Randolph D. Mitchell of Perdue Farms posed the question, “What do consumers want?”

Quoting Steve Jobs, he said: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give it to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something else.”

In addressing the question, he stated that what consumers want from food is fairly simple in one context — they want safe, affordable and nutritious food that tastes good.

Affordability, however, is most important to the large proportion of the global population that struggles with food insecurity. Yet, the growth in food categories such as “raised without antibiotics" demonstrates that consumers’ views on nutrition and food safety are complex, to say the least.

Consequently, poultry producers should not ignore these societal trends; rather, they should work to incorporate better practices into efficient systems, and so maintain affordability while meeting consumer expectations and demands.

As food safety is now a given for most consumers, agricultural sustainability is a growing expectation. Yet, the term means different things to different people.

A report from the U.S. National Research Council, entitled “Towards Sustainable Agriculture in the 21st Century,” defines four goals for sustainable agriculture. They are:

      1. Satisfying the human needs for food, feed, and fiber and contributing to the need for biofuels;
      2. Enhancing environmental quality and the resource base;
      3. Sustaining the economic viability of agriculture; and
      4. Improving the quality of life for farmers, farm workers and society as a whole.

Mitchell continued that this was not only broad-based, but possibly the best definition that he had read.

Re-think the future

Perhaps the most daunting task is to feed the more than 9 billion people expected to inhabit the earth by 2050, he continued. The United Nations estimates that, by 2050, we will need 70 percent more food than is produced today. Under any reasonable scenario, the only way to meet this challenge is to increase agricultural productivity.

“While I believe that technology can get us a long way toward achieving the first goal and partially toward the second goal of sustainability, the last two goals will need better policies toward agriculture and the people that have devoted their lives to it,” he said, continuing: “Albert Einstein once said: ‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them’. To reach all four of the goals stated above for sustainability we must truly think differently.”

For the most part, single discipline incremental research has brought us to the point we are at today. This type of research will continue to be needed. However, truly transformative research will require an interdisciplinary, holistic and agroecological approach. To achieve truly transformative research will require scientists, farmers, policy makers and institution leaders, both public and private, to rethink their approach to research.

Optimizing bird health and nutrition

Tightening the focus of the presentations, Todd J. Applegate of Purdue University noted that within and between genetic strains of poultry, immunocompetency can fluctuates considerably, adding that selection for rapid growth in broilers has long been criticized for reducing adaptive immunity while increasing cell-mediated and inflammatory responses.

Recent meta-analysis has shown that selection for growth compromises both cellular and humoral immune measures, while conversely, selection for immunity does not have the same effect on growth, he noted.

Variation in immunological response within a genetic strain varies extensively. In the past, identifying resistance to a particular insult/challenge was accomplished with slow, resource-intensive sibling tests. However, with the advent of novel selection tools, such as in vitro heterophil capacity, pro-inflammatory markers, etc.; genetic progress in immunocompetency can be accomplished at an unprecedented scale.

Looking at the recent focus of research, he added that it has solely looked at the initial response of the bird to a particular challenge and/or acquired immune capacity. Largely, it has lacked the dynamics of the responsiveness required to fully grasp the productive “cost” of the response, encompassing immunological reaction, reduction and recovery of food intake, as well as restoration and healing of damaged tissue.

The long-term consequences of this response have been noted on the intestine due to delayed placement after hatching or due to stressors such as early weaning in pigs. Recent work at Purdue University also suggests that recovery from an early stressor is different between commercial broiler strains, such that partial compensatory growth is plausible in some, but not all strains.

Dietary influence on health and genetic potential

The gastrointestinal tract, GIT, comprises a large nutrient digestive and barrier functionality. The functions of the intestines are vast and adapt to changing needs and demands. Stressors to the intestine increase the demands put on it to maintain barrier, digestive, and absorptive roles. For example, when exposed to coccidial challenge, the energetic efficiency of birds greatly declines.

Recent research at Purdue University has also demonstrated an energetic and nutrient “cost” model, utilizing sub-clinical challenges with a coccidial vaccine. In this model, up to a 39 percent reduction in apparent metabolizable energy, a 25 percent reduction in apparent dry matter retention, and a 48 percent reduction in apparent nitrogen retention five to seven days post-inoculation was measured. Responses of the animals to intestinal challenges, therefore, encompass a large loss, mainly due to nutrient and maintenance needs. In the pig, for example, digestive bacterial infections, can reduce growth by up to 40 percent, of which 74 percent is due to change in maintenance rather than losses in feed efficiency.

Beyond the intestine, other factors may be influencing the variability in bird response. For example, factors such as toxicological responses may influence the efficiency to which individual birds respond.

Different feed additives and nutritional strategies have shown promise in changing and mediating the response and recovery of the bird to various stressors and challenges and so influencing flock performance and uniformity. Better understanding and application of these strategies is imperative in order to reduce the variability in maintenance and/or feed efficiencies.

Probiotic supplements

It has been noted that the acute phase response induced by E. coli lipopolysaccharide diverted a large portion of consumed nutrients from tissue accretion. Probiotic supplementation, however, lessened the duration of the anorexic effects of the challenge, resulting in improved weight gains. The improved partial recovery of feed intake when birds were supplemented with the probiotic, substantiates the role of probiotics not only within the intestine, but also when faced with recovery from and dealing with a systemic immunological response.

Supplemental zinc

Recent work from Purdue has shown that, when comparing coccidial vaccine challenged versus unchallenged birds, intestinal tissue from broilers consuming a chelated zinc source was able to maintain resistance/and integrity, maintain a better relationship between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, and lessened chloride secretion into the lumen of the intestines. This reduction in the inflammatory and anaphylactic response may alleviate the severity of symptoms observed by sub-clinical infections.

Phytogenic extracts

Phytogenic extracts have largely been considered as feed additives for their immune-modulatory and antimicrobial activity. However, additional physiological benefits of phytogenic extracts have been noted in the intestine. For example, broilers supplemented with an additive containing essential oils from oregano, anis and citrus peel had 30 percent more mucin-producing goblet cells.

To further explore the plausible effects of phytogenic additives on the quantity and characteristics of intestinal mucal production, studies have found that supplementation with carvacol or thymol altered mucin transcription and mucin glycosylation or sulfation, particularly when birds were fed wheat-based diets. These physical and chemical modifications altered the mucin’s hydration capacity. Essential oil supplementation may help alleviate digesta viscosity changes induced by non-starch polysaccharides from wheat-based diets.

Pace of change — vitamin D supplementation

The poultry industry has had specific cases where it has been slow to respond or adapt. A case in point is changes to vitamin D3 supplementation. Historically, the industry has supplemented vitamin D3 at concentrations well above what is typically reported as required. Studies have led many producers to supplement at up to four times what is now seen as necessary.

More recent evaluations of sources of vitamin D3 have resulted in variation in broiler bio assay. This, coupled with much improved methods of chemical analyses, has greatly improved confidence in the level and bio-potency of vitamins received by birds. However, where there has not been regulatory intervention, the level of supplementation used by the industry has not changed.

The dynamics of the response to environmental stressors and recovery from these stressors encompasses a bird’s ability to reach its genetic potential. The goal of the nutritionist is to predict the varying maintenance needs of the bird, and its varying ability to absorb and effectively utilize dietary nutrients, while fully understanding they are feeding individuals within a population that may be responding differently.

Formulation targets is therefore a balancing act of not losing too much feed cost due to “over-formulating,” while realizing where shifts in maintenance needs or inefficient use of feeds may result.

Closer attention should be given to feed additives that maintain the intestinal barrier, reduce the variability of nutrient utilization within and between flocks, and improve the bird’s ability to cope with and recover from immunological insult. The poultry industry in the future should be more encompassing and responsive to change, rather than being mired in tradition.

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