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Matching genetics to market requirements

The world population is growing rapidly. In this respect, a breeding company like Hubbard aims to obtaining the highest effiency from the breeding stock to feeding the world. But at the same time in a sustainable way.

By Yves Jego, global director Hubbard R&D and Paul van Boekholt, Hubbard global marketing director

The world population is currently growing at a frightening level of 220,000 people per day (or 80 million per year). Asia and Africa are the regions likely to experience the fastest growth. We can also see a transition from a staple diet of cereals and vegetables in developing countries to a diet based on further processed foods consumed by families in some of the most developed economies resulting in much higher food expenditure by family per week (see Figure 1). Some may be looking for a return to organic farming methods to feed the growing world population, but in our opinion this just answers a specific demand for a niche market and will not be the answer to feed a growing human population sustainably.

Natural Concept

Broiler breeder company Hubbard is part of Groupe Grimaud, a French family owned company focusing on further development of its worldwide position in its core businesses: animal genetics and bio-pharmacy serving human and animal health. Groupe Grimaud developed its own 'Natural Concept' aiming for sustainable poultry production around the world. The five key points of this concept are:

  1. Favour robustness and feed efficiency traits in all breeding programmes.
  2. Better prevent infectious risks through bacterial ecology management.
  3. Stimulate the immune system of the animals; natural by competition, acquired by vaccination.
  4. Because they are very valuable, use the chemical 'super molecules' (antibiotics) only in cases of proven pathology.
  5. To give back to the earth the necessary nutrients by the composting of the organic by-products.

By focusing on its core business and   initiatives such as 'Natural Concept', Groupe Grimaud is trying to help the world to meet feed and health challenges. With its 'Natural Concept', Groupe Grimaud practices a unique vision on sustainable breeding and production of animal protein.

Broiler breeder objectives

Within Hubbard, as a primary broiler breeder, the main objective is to continue to improve the efficiency and profitability of the broiler industry which is challenged by more and more difficult and complex circumstances; the strong increase in the cost of raw materials, on-going disease challenges around the world, increased pressure on animal welfare and use of antibiotics and uncertainties about market developments in some regions/countries.

Hubbard believes that this industry will continue to grow in the coming years. It is our responsibility to provide all the elements for its future growth. Genetic selection is by definition actively involved in the development to produce more with fewer resources, making broilers more efficient to produce meat. Selection for the best feed efficiency has been general practice within Hubbard for many years, which is proven by the actual performance of our products. Therefore Hubbard launched its new corporate campaign "Less Feed, More Meat" illustrating its main target: to propose a wide product range adapted to different market needs, with a feed conversion rate which continuously keeps improving combined with the highest total meat yield.

Selecting for feed efficiency has the final aim to improve the profitability of the broiler industry, but also targets a more sustainable future. Groupe Grimaud and its subsidiaries are proactively embracing this new challenge to make the poultry industry more sustainable over time, to be able to continue to feed the growing world population. Hubbard actively contributes to this objective by producing more meat with less feed, but on top are also actively working on the hardiness and robustness of their products.

Matching market requirements

Continuously upgrading breeding programmes in order to match market requirements is the main goal of the R&D-team of a primary breeding company. One of the biggest challenges that geneticists are facing is running breeding programmes where the Elite level pure lines flocks are kept under top conditions (in order to maximise the expression of the genetic potential as well as guaranteeing a disease free status) and, at the same time, breeding for robustness and the ability to perform under a variety of environments.

This difficult equation is solved within Hubbard by:

  • breeding the pure lines in a highly bio-secure environment.
  • placing pedigree sib-tests in challenging commercial conditions, these chicks being relatives of selection candidates.

In both types of facilities all pedigree chicks are grown as broilers. The pedigree sib-tests are operated in Europe (temperate climate conditions) and in South-East Asia (hot and humid conditions). All the information recorded on an individual basis is integrated into the pure lines genetic index evaluation. Evaluating genetic potential under challenging commercial conditions is especially important for robustness and welfare traits such as liveability, lower frequency of leg disorders (twisted legs, tibial dyschondroplasia), hock burn and foot pad lesions.

FCR and robustness

To match markets requirements, geneticists also have to include many breeding objectives in the pure line programmes. One of the most important objectives is Feed Conversion Rate (FCR). Since the early 80's, Hubbard has been delivering to the industry significant gains in FCR. Besides the conventional way of selection for FCR (i.e. by using individual cages), RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology allows measuring "whole life FCR" of individual birds kept in group pens on the floor, much closer to field conditions. This technology also gives access to feeding behaviour traits (meals/day, meal size, etc.).

Robustness and welfare traits are also given a very high priority. A variety of traits is measured in the multiple environments design (pure line facilities plus challenging commercial conditions sib-testing): leg defects (valgus, varus and rotated tibia), tibial dyschondroplasia, foot pad lesions and hock burn. Mortality is recorded by cause of death (ascites, flip-over, runting, etc.). Blood oxygen saturation, a trait related to resistance to ascites, is also recorded on all selection candidate males. All these data are analysed with state-of-the-art statistical methods allowing to identify the individuals showing the best genetic potential for robustness and welfare traits in different environments.

Total meat yield

"Less Feed, More Meat" means also breeding for better breast, legs and total meat yields. To achieve this goal selection candidates are evaluated for breast yield by using a conformation score (subjective scoring assessing breast length, width, shape) and ultrasound technology. Total meat yield is evaluated by processing and deboning samples of the sibs. Hubbard geneticists are also collaborating with research institutes to investigate the potential of meat quality criteria such as meat pH.

Having presented R&D strategies related to broiler commercial performance (live, processing), broiler robustness and welfare performance, the "Less feed, more meat" target is also achieved with breeder performance. Egg numbers, egg weight, egg shell quality, percentage of hatch are key traits in the female lines breeding programs. In the male lines the focus is more on fertility measured under natural mating conditions.

By maintaining a close contact with the different broiler markets, customers, breeding objectives will keep on being upgraded to match the future needs of the broiler industry. With its multi-species genetic teams, being part of Groupe Grimaud gives access to expertise on breeding tools such as genomics, statistical methods and RFID technology.

Yves Jego and Paul van Boekholt

4 comments

  • SUNIL DESHPANDE

    Really a good article.
    Robustness, feed efficiency and total meat yield are major contributors to get maximum profit in broilers.
    In breeders, life time feed efficiency in association with egg numbers, egg weight and egg quality are most important.

  • gubbi lokanath

    In pedigreed stocks, genetic association of important quantitative traits ( preferred in the market ultimately) with traits of fitness for profitable economic production needs to be separately developed in the male and female lines accordingly and respectively. This has be done in replicated trials in closed and external environments in different geographical locations due to preferential market requirements.
    Overall, deep insights have been perceived in the article,which is commended.

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  • gubbi lokanath

    Growth is medium-highly heritable. It is easy,therefore, to genetically breed and produce either slow /fast growing birds to suit market requirements over a period of time. Generations back, when poultry breeding was making slow gradual impact, Prof. Siegel,P.B. was able to develop 2 lines-slow and fast-from the same base population. If the market trends require tough,robust and bite to taste chicken meat, slow growing Asiatic birds/indigenous breeds are the solutions. Similarly, certain pockets require differentiated plumage colour patterns with slow/fast growth-a developed breeding manipulation specialized by some poultry companies in India-both for confined and out door management, which is worth noting.
    Dr. G.R.Lokanath (Gubbi Lokanath)

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