US firm plans to feed chickens as they hatch

In-ovo vaccination is becoming a common method of inoculating birds against disease, but scientists in the USA have unveiled a novel plan to use in-ovo to feed birds giving them an advantage when they hatch

“Most people think the first meal the chick consumes is when it hatches, but in-fact the first meal is when that embryo consumes the amniotic fluid as it hatches,” said Dr Peter Ferket, researcher at North Carolina State University speaking at the 2011 Alltech animal health and nutrition symposium in Lexington, Kentucky.

“The idea of taking the amniotic fluid, and supplementing it is kind of like taking corn and soy and adding minerals to it.

“This mix of bioactive compounds, vitamins and minerals enhances intestinal gene expression, changes morphology. It starts off a whole host of things such as the colonisation of the gut with microflora and helps those cells proliferate.”

Dr Ferket said in Ross broilers there had been a 492% increase in skeletal cells and therefore strength in chicks, an 8.3% increase in breast muscle size by 10 days post-hatch and an increase in leg symmetry.

The eggs are injected with the feed mix at about 17 to 18 days of age, shortly before birds begin piping and at the time they absorb the amniotic fluid.

“During the process of hatching the glycogen stores are consumed, leaving less carbohydrate available for that very important development later,” said Dr Ferket.

“To rebuild those glycogen reserves that chick needs to extract or produce glycogen by gluconeogenesis, by basically consuming his own muscle protein.”

As well as providing general nutrients, in-ovo feeding occurs at a critical point in the development of the chick, in-between the end of the development of foetal myoblast cells and the start of adult myoblast development, which determine future growth.

These adult satellite cells contribute to the ability for the chick to develop larger breast muscle later on, and when fed in-ovo, seven days after hatch, there are 500% more of these cells in chicks.

“These cells contribute to the muscle fibre. They produce the DNA which syntheses protein, so the potential for muscle fibre thickness is greatly enhanced,” Dr Ferket said.

By treating birds in-ovo Dr Ferket believes there is a great opportunity to improve genetic expression as well as the development of the birds.

“We have an opportunity to take the genetic profile and activate certain types of genes to create a whole new response. This is the exciting thing about perinatal nutrition. We have the ability to possibly program an animal to respond in a very different way.”

The Game Changers: The 27th Annual Alltech International Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium is held at the Lexington Convention Centre, Kentucky, USA from 22-25 May 2011.

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