Balancing genetics, welfare and economics in broiler production

by 5m Editor
28 August 2006, at 12:00am

By Matthew Wilson, broiler specialist, Cobb World Technical Support Team - The genetic progress made by the modern broiler has been truly spectacular over the last 30 years and even more so in recent years.


This is not a new situation for broiler producers around the world but, significantly, the pressures from outside our industry are changing. Consumers expect safe, welfare-friendly products to feed their families. Poultry businesses are under increasing pressure from global competition and from retailers who expect to offer their customers ever safer, more welfare-friendly food at cheaper prices. The poultry industry’s focus used to be on growth rate and feed conversion but now, and increasingly in the future, this must be on cost per kg liveweight or breast meat depending on the market supplied.

We are often asked ‘What is the difference between the top and average poultry businesses?’ The top producers ‘keep it simple’. They repeat daily their basic management program that is followed by everyone in the business. They know what happens in their business; large volumes of data are collected daily and analysis of this data is vital to good management.

The top producers pay greater attention to detail - the cornerstone of success in poultry husbandry. The top producers analyze their data and use the information to solve problems as they arise. We should always remember we are managing living beings and not assembling manufactured components. And the top producers acknowledge that different genotypes have different management and nutritional needs - even more important when more than one genotype is used.

Often poultry producers debate which is the most important element in growing broilers. Is it water, oxygen, feed, temperature or light? The fact is that all of these elements are vital in achieving optimum bird performance and meeting profit expectations in a welfare friendly and socially responsible way. This was true 50 years ago when the broiler industry was in its infancy. It is true today and will no doubt still be so in 50 years regardless of genetic progress.

The main article (pages 2 to 4) by the two eminent North American experts Dr Mike Lacy and Dr Brian Fairchild describes in detail how to ëpaceí broilers throughout their life to achieve the best results for the birds and for the business. They concentrate on the essential elements among them:

  • Importance of brooding temperature
  • Ventilation and air quality to avoid ammonia issues
  • Provision of adequate water
  • Risks in high nutrient density diets
  • How to use lighting programs to advantage.

I would like to elaborate on water which, as the authors point out, is often ‘the forgotten nutrient’.Water quality is important and can be assessed in different ways. The pH or acidity level impacts both on the birds and on the effectiveness of disinfectants such as chlorine. If the pH is alkaline and particularly above 8.0, the chlorine is present mainly as chloric ions that add very little sanitizing quality. Chlorine is most effective when used in slightly acidic water with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0, resulting in a greater percentage of hypochlorous ions that are a strong sanitizer. In fact, free chlorine residual levels are not considered a useful sanitizer unless there is at least 85% hypochlorus acid present.

Cobb 500 Male Performance
Trait 1994 1999 2004 Change
Weight at 42 days 2076g 2348g 2848g + 770g
Weight at 56 days 3082g 3384g 4064g + 982g
Days to 2kg 40.9 37.5 32.9 - 8
Days to 3 kg 54.8 50.5 43.6 - 11.2

If water does have a high pH, it may be necessary to acidify it, but, acids and chlorine sources should NEVER be mixed directly together to create stock solutions. This might result in release of a chlorine gas dangerous to personnel. Acidify the water before adding bleach by, for instance, installing an inline pump with dual injectors. Then a stock solution of acid can be added before the bleach.

One important point about pH is the success that many producers have experienced when lowering a high natural pH, 8 or above, to below 7. Chickens have only two taste sensors, salt and bitter. In nature most poisons are associated with bitter or alkaloids. Therefore it may be natural for birds to consume less water if it has a bitter taste and it may be possible to mask this with an acidifier.

Overuse of organic acids such as citric or acetic may also cause birds to consume less water. Organic acids are typically known as weak acids; they have a low tendency to free their H+ ions and so tend to have a strong taste associated with them. Inorganic acids tend to give up their hydrogen ion more readily and this causes less taste issues.

June 2006