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What’s important for broilers?

  • Meat quality: The quality of the meat — focusing on the appearance, texture, juiciness, flavor and functionality. Good, consistent meat quality can build trust with consumers, leading to more return customers.
  • Meat yield: The amount of edible meat product you can get from an animal. This metric is usually calculated by dividing the amount of edible product by the weight of the animal at market weight and multiplying that number by 100.
  • Feed efficiency: The relative ability of chickens to turn feed nutrients into meat.
  • Preventing early chick mortality: Birds are vulnerable at an early age because their immune systems are still developing. Producers/growers can focus on preventing chicks from dying at an early age to help maintain their flock performance and economic value.
  • Pathogen prevention: Broilers are birds that get processed into chicken meat. Preventing pathogens early on in the animal production process is vital for helping reduce the overall risk of bacteria growing on finished food products, which could potentially harm humans. Not only are there human health concerns associated with pathogens, but they can also decrease the performance of and animal welfare conditions for birds. These issues can cause producers to lose money and can challenge birds, sometimes even resulting in bird losses.

Common challenges

  • Mortality: Mortality is the term used to monitor the death rate of a flock. Birds can die for a multitude of reasons depending on their age, environment, stress levels, management and more.
  • Pathogens: These are bacteria, viruses and/or other microorganisms that can cause disease. Common pathogen challenges for broilers include:
    • Bacteria (e.g., Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, Clostridium, etc.)
    • Viruses (e.g., avian influenza, bronchitis, etc.)
    • Worms (like roundworms)
    • Fungi (e.g., mycotoxins from molds)
  • High feed conversion ratio (FCR), low feed intake and low weight gain: FCR, feed intake and weight gain are performance metrics that are monitored to check a flock’s health and performance. The goal is to have a low feed conversion (FCR), a high feed intake and a high weight gain.
  • Ventilation and air quality: Most commercial broilers are raised indoors in buildings called houses. Chicken houses are monitored for air flow and air quality to ensure that birds are always comfortable. Keeping the birds indoors allows them to be protected from predators and other biosecurity threats while also providing the optimal monitoring conditions for the humidity, temperature and air contamination of the environment. Proper ventilation differs based on the housing structure, but the overall goal is to maintain proper air flow and circulation in the houses to remove excess heat, moisture, dust and odors, as well as to dilute airborne disease organisms and conserve energy.
  • Flock uniformity: A measurement of consistency referring to bird weight and size within a group of birds. Uniformity amongst a flock means that the birds are all consistently getting the right nutrition, which is extremely important — especially before entering the processing plant, as processing plants are designed to accommodate the specific target size of the birds to ensure a consistent food product for consumers.
  • Coccidiosis: A common disease in poultry caused by an invasion of protozoa (Eimeria or Iospora) in the intestine. Coccidiosis is usually identified by inflammation of the intestine, lesions, diarrhea, weight loss and/or sometimes even death.
  • Meat quality: The quality of the meat, focusing on its appearance, texture, juiciness, flavor and functionality. Common meat quality challenges include white striping and wooden breast, which affect the look and texture of the meat.
    • White striping: White striations across the chicken meat.
    • Wooden breast: Hard/tough texture of the chicken meat.
  • Stress: Birds are vulnerable to multiple types of stress, which is usually triggered by changes in the diet, climate, management or transportation, etc. Signs of stress in broilers typically include weight loss, decreased water intake, lethargy, droopy wings, ruffled feathers and more.
  • Sustainability: Sustainability is a growing focus with broilers, since broilers are one of the fastest-growing protein sources and are raised with minimal resources. The poultry industry is vertically integrated, making it extremely efficient and traceable. In 2020, the U.S. chicken industry achieved several key sustainability intensity metrics, including 13% less land use, a 22% reduction of fossil resource scarcity, 22% fewer fine particulate matter formation, an 18% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and 13% less water consumption (data from 2010–2020, Sustainability in the broiler industry can be affected by bird nutrition, bird environment/housing systems, management practices and much more.

Tips for maximizing health and performance

  • Incorporate a multi-enzyme into broiler diets to help optimize nutrient absorption and protein breakdown.
  • Provide antioxidants and minerals that are better absorbed in order to increase mineral reserves.
  • Ensure that the proper nutrition is provided in the early stages of life in order to support natural defenses and help build immunity.