The 52nd Franchise Distributors Meeting of the Lohmann Tierzucht

Lara Naldini


The 52nd Franchise Distributors Meeting of the Lohmann Tierzucht was held in Niagara Falls, Canada a place of natural beauty renowned for its spectacular scenery. LTZ have their headquarters in Cuxhaven, Germany and are one of the most important worldwide specialists in the field of layer breeding.

Welcoming the participants from all over the world and who numbered approximately 150, Javier Ramírez, Managing Director at Lohmann Tierzucht explained why the company this year had decided to hold this important event in Canada.
The philosophy of LTZ can be summarized under two main objectives; – the production of eggs suitable for every market and of birds which are profitable and adaptable to all types of environmental conditions.
Research and development at Lohmann Tierzucht take place in breeder selection centres where the use of modern technology ensures maximum biosecurity.
In about six months time such a LTZ pedigree breeding centre will also be up and running in Canada located in York, Ontario. The centre will consist of three different poultry houses with 33,000 individual cages and 7,500 individual cages for males all equipped to the highest standard of quality.
In this centre the highly qualified staff will check in a precise and detailed manner the progress of the genetic breeding lines with all the collated data being forwarded directly to the company headquarters in Cuxhaven.

The decision by the company to move part of their genetic programme to Canada is seen as another step forward. It also represents a further example of the company’s foresight and flexibility in dealing with the many changes that have taken place regarding the increases in world population and in socio-political issues which has necessitated the movement of production centres to various parts of the world.

In his brilliant presentation Prof. Dr. Rudolf Preisinger, Director General of Genetics at LTZ outlined the latest update on genetics at Lohmann Tierzucht. Over the past 60 years genetics has led to an increase of 1.66 eggs per hen per annum. This represents a 20% increase in production; a body weight reduction of 20%; a 15% lower age of ‘onset of lay’; a 20% increase in egg shell hardness and an improvement in feed conversion of 35%.

In the future, genomic selection will be based more on quantitive selective crossings important in identifying sexual traits particularly those exhibited later in the bird’s life which influence length of lay, egg quality and shell hardness. The results of these studies should lead to an increase in the length of lay, improved yolk and internal egg quality, better shell strength, better conversion, lower mortality and less cannibalism, better nest laying traits, with all such improvements compensating for rising feed costs.

Genetic updating of hens must take account of the global marketplace. Every year sees an increase in human population of 80 million; this corresponds to about 50 million extra layers to produce the extra billion eggs needed for the increase in consumption. At the same time in Europe the regulations require birds to be restocked in enriched cages with perches, nests and scratching areas or in small colony cages or small aviaries or on the ground or in alternative systems.

Breeding companies therefore need to maintain and build on existing lines, through continuous testing and selection in order to reproduce elite lines which can be available to customers in different parts of the world. Currently markets in both Europe and North America have limited growth potential while China, India, Latin America and a few African countries will grow significantly.
Focus is also needed on maximizing genetic potential in order to produce high quality protein at competitive prices. Companies such as LTZ have to anticipate the market demands of at least several years ahead (e.g. enriched cages, free range, prohibition of beak treatment, the culling of day-old males etc).
In Europe to meet the new farming conditions Lohmann Tierzucht is selecting hens that do not lay while they are on the perches but do lay in the nest.

The 52nd Lohmann Tierzucht Franchise Distributors Meeting Canada

In Canada the market requires hens that produce a lot of hard-shelled eggs, with a long life cycle with improved feed efficiency. They should also have good disease resistance, a trait which has shown up in LTZ field trials.
Selection is made by taking into account 42,000 genetic markers, and is done on blood samples from day-old chicks. This analysis forms the major source for accurate and early selection and has been common practice in cattle where semen for insemination is selected and the price level is based on genomic breeding values.
Using families with 10 full-sib hens in the population, LTZ are able to increase both the strength of the shell and rate of lay with significant improvements when compared to the traditional selection. The project involves the genomic sequencing of all the males in the gene pool that forms the basis of the selection. Prof. Preisinger presented data illustrating how sequencing the whole genome of 20 individual males is important when their direct descendants represent about 80% of the line.
Modern breeding technology along with genome-sequencing technology and bio-informatics provide better estimates of improvements of the main economic traits. The selection of the cockerels is very intense in the LTZ programme (only 80 or  100 per line and generation) since millions of hens are descendants of a single male and as such one male can damage the entire population. Sequencing leads to significant improvements in both bird health and well-being.

Within his presentation Prof. Preisinger drew attention to Synbreed programme running in Germany funded by the Ministry of Education and Research, and various universities and focuses on features such as dynamic resistance to breakage of the shell; beak shape and plumage quality; cannibalism and general liveability; nesting behaviour and laying of the perch.

Concluding his report, Prof. Dr. Rudolf Preisinger showed that genetic progress at LTZ is now much greater than it was 20 years ago and provides improvements in the structure and size of populations, thanks to the new testing, data collection and analytical technologies. With markers for the entire genome all traits of interest can be looked at. Example of the progress seen at Lohmann Tierzucht are:- an increase in laying persistency of 25%: better stability of the shell of 15%; feed conversion better 20%; internal egg quality up by 5% and liability up by 15%. Additionally using larger testing/housing facilities which increases analytical capacity one should see an overall improvement of 25% for all traits.
Prof. Preisinger went on to say that creating the perfect chicken is like cooking good food – you have the best ingredients (lines); mix them with the necessary knowledge and experience; select and integrate them successfully and then steadily improve (generation by generation).
Prof. Preisinger asserted that great eggs come from great hens which need great genetic lines – Lohmann Tierzucht have these lines and are improving them at a faster rate.

Mr. J.B. Kjaer ((Institute for Animal Welfare in Celle, Germany) presented an informative paper – Feather pecking in laying hens – Genetic selection and the effects on behaviour and physiology.

Feather pecking was defined as (1) damaging of feathers and (2) cannibalism involving injury of the skin and underlying muscle.
Aggressive behaviour between feather pecking (FP) and cannibalism (CB) is so different.
Feather pecking is influenced by several factors:- Physical factors within the environment, such as litter, stocking density and intensity or colour of the lighting.
Social factors such as the size and composition of the group. Nutritional factors such as quantity and quality of the feed (fraction of the fibre, essential amino acids, roughages etc).

Stress factors such as handling, crating, transporting, temperature and so on.
There are differences in feather pecking behaviour between genetic lines but until a few years ago selection experiments and heritability studies provided few answers. Additionally work on genetic correlations highlighted little information.

It is known that the level of pecking is much greater in brown shell strains than in white egg lines. Since 1995 experiments have been carried out on different selected groups – (1) control group selected at random; (2) low pecking group; (3) high pecking; (4) individual feather pecking group. Illustrations showed how selected lines can give information on heritability and the motivational background to feather pecking through behavioural, physiological and molecular genetic studies. Investigations also looked at stress response on corticosterone and heart rate, locomotor activity and the activity of neurotransmitters.

Blood sampling showed that the levels of corticosterone were higher in the plasma of the high feather pecking lines than those from low pecking lines. Contrary to previous studies increased plasma corticosterone levels were reported in high feather pecking lines who had been subjected to acute physical stress. It was also noted that higher levels of feather pecking was noted in birds that moved around a lot doing activities such as foraging in the litter.

Levels of serotonin, related to the presence of tryptophan in the diet seem to influence physical activity and levels of pecking on specially selected progeny.

Mr. Kjaer went on to say that in reality the root cause of feather pecking is still unknown. It is speculated that it might be linked to factors related to brain imbalances (at hatch, during growth, in times of stress), genetic changes (related to selection, mutation, drift) and finally to mechanisms of neurotransmission. He was however optimistic, believing that in time it will be possible to solve this problem. As incidences of high feather pecking in a flock can cause economic losses genomic selection might be an effective solution. Feather pecking is only recorded in hens; is better assessed in adult birds; is difficult to record and heritability is relatively low. We must find genomic markers that are linked to feather pecking. Molecular genetic analysis may allow for identification of high pecking behavioral patterns. So far six genes have been identified that showed differential expression between high feather pecking and low feather pecking.

So in the future, concluded Mr. Kjaer, selection procedures could include the elimination of subjects with frequent pecking characteristics using behavioral and genomic data.

The problem of moulting was addressed by Dr. Hans-Heinrich Thiele and Mr. Farhad Mozafar (Technical Service Lohmann Tierzucht). Discussion took place regarding the pros and cons of what is, in fact, a natural process of egg producing birds. For example, before migration of wild birds moulting is induced by shorter and colder days. Moulting is related to age and stress and causes a pause in laying which resets itself. Body weight is reduced by 20-30%, the reproductive organs are reconstituted and the plumage is renewed, as well as the bone marrow.

Moulting can be induced and producers may do this for various reasons i.e. fluctuations in egg prices; economical conditions for egg production; demand for large eggs and/or seeking to improve shell strength and internal egg quality. Induced moulting can also be used after problems of diseases or production breaks; limited rearing space for new pullets and as a historical tool for managing egg layers. In an ordinary moulting programme we will see a first production cycle; then the moult; a rest period; a recovery period and finally a second production cycle. The methods for inducing a moult were listed as being varied i.e. complete withdrawal of food and water; utilization of chemical compounds, such as zinc, drugs, such as progesterone, aluminium, iodine etc; partial withdrawal of feed or feeding a low nutrient diet. When considering moulting in general terms it is necessary to consider the following; – moulting is a natural process in the life of the hen and can be induced by stress; induced moulting contrasts with the welfare legislation, a moulting programme without complete withdrawal of feed and water is difficult to apply especially, in groups of young birds still in good production. Modern commercial hens now have the capacity to maintain production for longer periods and continue to produce eggs with acceptable egg shell quality. Therefore exceptional market conditions would have to prevail to justify moulting as means of reaping economical benefit.

Mr. Robert Pottgueter (Technical Service team Lohmann Tierzucht) discussed the topic of feeding soya-free diets and what advantages this might bring. It would not be necessary to destroy the Amazon rainforest to grow more soya beans, as is done now in order to provide European markets. This would also mean Europe would not be importing protein from overseas and therefore environmental pollution from transport/shipping would be reduced. Feed could be formulated using local raw materials which consumers might find appealing. Feed prices might reduce which would be beneficial to regions such as Russia and Africa where they have limited or no soya availability.

The alternatives to soya are many: – derivatives of sunflower: rape or canola; peas, beans and lupins; gluten from corn or wheat (which in Europe has a quite high protein level); potato protein; if permitted – meat & bone meal/feather meal/blood meal; fish; derivatives from the distillation of maize or other cereals; lucerne (alfalfa); yeast and malt derivatives; cotton seed meal and synthetic amino acids. The cost of feed depends on the amino acid content.

While many of these alternatives have lower density than soya protein feed formulations must consider both the cost and the density of nutrients as well as the use of fats and oils and the storage technology. The price of the amino acids, including tryptophan is also a fundamental factor in feed formulation. Mr. Pottgueter illustrated how the use of these substitutes even partially, might be cost effective e.g. the partial replacement of soya (47% crude protein) with rape seed meal (33% cp) results in diet costs being reduced by 0.80 to 1.20 euro/100kg x quintal. Partially replacing soya with sunflower meal reduces costs by 0.60 to 0.90 euros/100kg.

Considering that feed without soya has a lower energy density it is necessary to add fat/oil to maintain the energy content of diets otherwise the use of alternative raw materials is not cost effective. It was illustrated that in practice a decrease of energy corresponds to a greater consumption of feed which results in poorer feed conversion rates. Diets need to be calculated and optimized on the level of digestible amino acids and we need to be willing to add available synthetic amino acids. In Europe in particular, tryptophan might be added as a higher/closer ratio of tryptophan to lysine has a positive effect on bird behaviour. Feed without soya and with no added fat to compensate for the lack of energy will be of low nutrient density and birds will need to eat greater quantities to maintain the production levels. Choosing this option a grower would need birds with a high appetite.

It was illustrated that feed without soya, formulated to take consideration of current concerns on the topic of GMO, will only work if the mash feed structure can carry the required higher levels of added fat/oil. The inclusion of good enzyme products will be required to counterbalance the fact that most of the soya-replacement raw materials contain anti-nutritional elements. These elements can cause unstable digestion, nutrient loss, dirty eggs, diarrhoea and litter problems. In his closing remarks Mr. Pottgueter said that there are no problems in formulating diets without soya but this option is highly dependent on raw material availability and relevant cost effectiveness. Such feed formulations would also be dependent on the technical possibilities within the feed mill when fat and oil and synthetic amino acids need to be added.

Additionally it was added that if the consumer wishes livestock fed with soya free diets the producer will require to select strains that consume more feed and are genetically selected for their appetite traits.

The 52nd Lohmann Tierzucht Franchise Distributors Meeting-1

Another topic addressed during the LTZ conference concerned the use of organic acids in diets for layer hens. Mr. Christian Lienesch (Selko BV, Netherlands) explained how the modern breed of hen, to produce economically, requires to be reared to the highest of health standards, standards that also meet the legal requirements regarding animal welfare. The focus is therefore to promote health and “germ reduction” within flocks. Organic acids in feed and water can help achieve these objectives. Illustrated examples included short-chain fatty acids; natural based organic acids (fruit, monogastric in the intestinal tract; ruminants – in the rumen, etc) and examples such as propionic acid, lactic acid and butyric acid. Organic acids have selective antimicrobial activity unlike disinfectants that kill everything. Every organic acid has its own antimicrobial spectrum.

They therefore allow for the control of certain germs, such as salmonella and E. coli, they can be effective in controlling mould and yeast, most can reduce pH value and some can have positive effects on intestine micro flora. Also, as was illustrated, they improve digestion of nutrients by reducing gastric pH by improving gastric digestion and stimulation of pancreatic secretions. They promote proliferation of epithelial cells and have properties of chelation (better digestibility of minerals, such as calcium, etc.). In essence organic acids can lead to higher performance and better health status.

For years the treatment of raw materials with organic acids has been used as a tool against salmonella. Such procedures work well outside the animal i.e. in feed and water but the biggest challenge today is to bring the acids inside the small intestine in order to fight against pathogenic germs.

One possible way is to use the salts of the acids that work even at high pH levels in the small intestine. It is therefore necessary to create products that use short-chain fatty acids which promote digestion and, at the same time, are effective, at low inclusion levels, in supporting villi growth in order to kill pathogens without causing injury to the intestinal wall. Mr. Lienesch illustrated how salts such as ammonium can act towards killing pathogens in the small intestines. Other special products can be effective when used in feed and water.

It is important to use the correct acid blend and the correct dosage because every acid has its own specific antimicrobial spectrum. Organic acids can improve the health status and the performance of a flock and can be classed as a relatively low cost investment.

The opportunity to present the closing presentation fell to Professor Paul B. Siegel (Virginia Tech., USA), a leading protagonist in the world poultry scene. Professor Siegel outlined the steps required to achieve success in the poultry breeding business. Today genetic programs are designed to produce either eggs or meat, while the so-called “dual-purpose” breeds are not considered efficient. Poultry breeding is based on factual data, both physiological and biological which when combined with economic data promotes constant change. Domestication of Gallus Gallus began in the Neolithic period and is a continuing process. The traits that favoured domestication were illustrated as being: – group structure; promiscuity; early maturity; eating habits and adaptability. Today the problem is how to balance growth, reproduction and animal well-being in meat and/or egg poultry production.

The principal phases in the production cycle are onset of lay; the egg clutch; the subsequent incubation and hatching; maternal behaviour towards the chick; birds coming together as a flock and finally the arrival of sexual maturity and mating.

To be successful breeding organisations must have highly specialized staff; utilize large populations of birds; practice intense selection; utilize hybrid vigour and continue to conduct basic research.

To do this you need to have huge capital; efficient transport; central and satellite facilities; molecular biology expertise and above all a solid long-term business strategy.