Sharing the path with genetic challenges

  • Interview

Interview with the Head of Technical Department, Dr Jan Dirk Van der Klis

The focus of animal genetics is on improved performance. However, selecting birds for higher production efficiency has also resulted in production-related ‘diseases’. Apart from product quality, consumers (organizations) continuously put more focus on animal welfare and the environmental impact of animal production.

Taking into consideration constant developments in genetics and nutrition in the poultry field, what are the current challenges regarding poultry nutrition? Is there anything that poultry producers need to take extra care of?

The focus of animal genetics is on improved performance, meaning more meat, more eggs, and better feed efficiency. The demand for animal protein is still growing on a global scale, especially in the (sub)tropical countries, and birds have shown a huge capacity for higher meat and egg production. Needless to say, they must be robust, which results in low morbidity and mortality under a wide variety of housing and management conditions. Animals should be able to maintain their production rates in any climate condition, meaning not only in temperate but also (sub) tropical areas, in fully climate-controlled as well as open houses.

Consumers (organizations) focus not only on product quality (meat and egg quality, antibiotic-free production), but also on animal welfare, and the environmental impact of animal production. An example is all those consumers, retailers, and fast-food chains that are rejecting conventional cage systems for laying hens in non-EU countries, following the EU developments. Slow-growing broilers, regional bird concepts, and implementation of production directives will probably have a positive impact on animal welfare. However, farmers need to be compensated for added costs due to these approaches.

„Feeding strategies need to be optimized for different aspects of animal production.“

Selecting birds for higher production efficiency has caused production-related ‘diseases’ such as breast myopathies, which result in meat downgrading, with a growing economic impact on the sector. In addition, the environmental impact of animal production is getting more and more attention (e.g. CO2 footprint, nitrogen, dust and odour emissions anddeforestation caused by soy and palm oil production).

Feeding strategies need to be optimized for different aspects of animal production. This is clearly illustrated by the global ban on in-feed antibiotics, which increases the focus on bird management and on nutrition, feed ingredients and feed characteristics that stimulate intestinal health, and nutrient utilization.

You have mentioned breast myopathies to be one of the challenges for poultry producers. Could you please elaborate on breast myopathies in broilers?

Breast myopathies are observed across broiler breeds and are related to the selection of birds for increasing breast meat yields. The most common ones are wooden breasts, white striping, and spaghetti meat. Currently, we are trying to understand the reason for these myopathies, which may be related to the diameter of the myofibers in breast meat that has become too large, thus impairing vascularization of the enlarged muscle. This causes the supply of nutrients to the muscle or the removal of metabolic waste products from the muscle to be limited, resulting in oxidative and inflammatory processes. There are also indications that enzymes related to vitamin D3 metabolism become limiting in highly productive birds, which might play a role in the occurrence of myopathies.

This seems like a significant challenge for meat producers. Is there a solution for this issue?

1,25(OH)2D3, the metabolically active form of vitamin D3, has numerous effects on the body of birds and mammals, affecting tissue vascularization, satellite cell formation, and muscle cell repair, as well as mitochondrial energy production. Additionally, it has anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects. Reduced activity of 1-alpha-hydroxylase could therefore be involved in the occurrence of these myopathies, and the supply of plant-based 1,25(OH)2D3- glycosides might help to reduce the incidence of myopathies in birds. However, balanced tissue growth remains the key.