Can fish meal help with broiler breeder fertility?

As the broiler industry is hoping hatchability rates improve, North Carolina State University researchers conducted a study to see if fertility in breeding roosters could be improved by giving them a feed that included fish meal.

Roy Graber Headshot
(Courtesy Aviagen)
(Courtesy Aviagen)

As the broiler industry is hoping hatchability rates improve, North Carolina State University researchers in the  Prestage Department of Poultry Science conducted a study to see if fertility in breeding roosters could be improved by giving them a feed that included fish meal.

The study, was conducted by graduate student Emmillie Boot, research technician Rebecca Wysocky, Prof. Dr. Ramon Malheiros. Boot presented the findings of the study on January 23 during the International Poultry Scientific Forum (IPSF), held in conjunction with the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta, Georgia.

The origins of the research 

Boot explained that the topic of broiler breeder hatchability and reproduction is a major concern in the industry, but few studies have actually been conducted.

She went to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) and determined that the estimated hatch rate for broiler breeder eggs has been decreasing over the past ten years.

“Obviously it’s a problem for the industry because in 2022, there  were over 10 billion broiler chicks (in the U.S.) hatch. But, if we could increase  hatchability by 1%, it would  be an additional 100 million broiler chicks  each year,” Boot said in an interview with WATT Global Media following the IPSF.

Knowing that known antioxidants and Omega 3s and Omega 6s contribute to improved poultry health, and that fish meal is an additive already used in many feed mills, the research team started trials. The overall objective was to see if semen quality and quantity would improve in roosters fed diets with additional fish meal.

The trial

Taking Aviagen Ross 308AP broiler breeders, and feeding them a diet that included a fish meal treatment with an inclusion rate of 3.2%, and comparing it to a control diet, the industry standard diet. They took semen samples from roosters given both types of feed. They also conducted a similar test in jungle fowl roosters. Those jungle fowl were used for comparative purposes.

“Mostly, it was the first time we’ve really seen jungle fowl been used for a study like his. We wanted to see if you could even collect semen from a jungle fowl, and how much semen does it produce just for our own lab, but also to see does it also increase fertility for jungle fowl.  If that’s the case, then it’s not necessarily something to do with the genetics or how different genetically the birds are. It has more to do with a physiological function. If it works in the broiler breeder roosters and it works in the jungle fowl, then maybe this could also be contributed to a layer-type bird or a turkey, for example,” Boot said.

Twelve roosters were used and semen samples from the birds fed a fish meal diet and samples were taken four times. However, not every bird gave a sample each time an attempt was made.

At the conclusion of the study, 40 samples were taken from the broiler breeders, while 35 samples were taken from the jungle fowl.

The results

When the samples were examined, it was determined that the total sperm count for broiler breeders fed the fish meal diet was improved by about 1 billion per milliliter, and there was a similar improvement for the motile sperm count and total semen volumes when compared to the broiler breeders fed the  control diet.

For the jungle fowl fed fish meal, there were improvements in motile sperm count and total semen volumes, but the total sperm count for the jungle fowl fed a control diet were better.

Boot said the study did not prove statistical significance between the control and treatment diet, but that numerically the roosters fed the additional fish meal did have improved semen quality and quantity.

However, what they found did not disprove it, either, and those results showed promise that adding fish meal  could improve fertility in broiler breeders.

“We didn’t have enough statistical power to prove that, but I believe that if I had collected probably two more times we could have had the statistical power to prove it and reject our null hypothesis,” Boot said. “It’s definitely an improvement, numerically, and really the only reason I can’t say its statistically different is because we just didn’t have enough samples.”

Future studies

Encouraged about the potential shown from the study, Boot indicated that research on the topic would continue.

“We actually just placed a new flock of broiler breeders on the NCSU chicken farm, and I do have it in my mind to run anther trial with a fish meal and a couple of other antioxidants to compare,” she said.

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