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Breeding Broilers for a Sustainable Future

13 January 2014

UK - Advances in broiler breeding could see the development of a 1.3 kg bird grown in 13 days or a 2kg bird grown in just 19 days.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Jerry Moye, the president of poultry research and development company Cobb Vantress, said that the advances in breeding and genetics are seeing the production of larger birds with better yields.

He said that the advances were also enabling birds to be developed to suit consumer needs in different markets.

Mr Moye said that the developments in genetics and breeding capabilities were improving feed conversion rates in broilers to a degree that it could be foreseen that a one to one conversion rate – one kilogram of feed for one kilogram of meat – could be possible.

From the early 1990s to 2011 the growth rate of broilers has reduced from 52 or 53 days to grow a 5lb bird to 43 days.

And Mr Moye added that advances were nearing the stage that for the Indonesian market, where the consumers like a smaller bird, by 2050 a 1.3 kg bird could be produced in 13 days.

“However, you don’t know what the quality of the meat will be and quite frankly this bothers me,” he said.

He added that at a recent poultry and egg industry conference one speaker had predicted a feed conversion rate of one and the growth of a 2kg bird in 19 days.

Mr Moye added that while feed conversion is a major aspect in the development of producing the most efficient bird and the best for the consumer, these developments had to be taken into account alongside animal welfare constraints.

He said the work carried out at Cobb Vantress is on a pure line level developing a library of pure line genetics to be able to produce birds for all areas of the market.

The company measures 400,000 birds a year, phenotyping the birds for 55 different traits, looking at feed conversion , gait scoring them and using x-ray equipment to examine joints and other aspects of the birds physiognomy.

The birds are also examined for yield and filet shape using ultrasound equipment and they are marked for welfare traits according to the environment they are grown in.

All the developments across all breeding companies have seen increased yields and improved feed conversion rates.

However, Mr Moye added that the improvement in yields has been developed along with a welfare plan.

He said that there cannot be efficient growth of a broiler in poor welfare and environmental standards.

The result of the developments in growth rate has also had a heavy impact on the sustainability of broiler production.

The growth rate gains have seen a large saving in feed that is used, and the developments that have been made in the last decade have also seen an 11 per cent saving on poultry housing.

He also estimated that globally with better feed conversion between 2000 and 2010 17.4 billion kilograms of feed is saved annually, saving 9.57 million tonnes of corn requiring in US terms 2,658,333 less acres of corn – the equivalent of 4,100 square miles.

“Nowadays, we are getting much more meat off of these birds and it is not done with hormones. It is all down to genetics and selection,” said Mr Moye.

“Genetic improvement can also save on land, crops and housing.”

These improvements in broiler production will help to ease the pressure on resources that are needed to produce the 100 per cent more food that will be required to feed the growing population by 2050 Mr Moye said.

He said that everyone in agriculture has a responsibility to produce safe food and animal breeding must develop animals that are fit for use in agriculture.

“Genetics and agriculture must develop products that meet the needs of all consumers," he said.

“And consumer interest movements should be broadminded enough to understand their potential impact outside their respective market place.”

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

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