Korver and his team use a Quantitative Computed Tomography (QCT) to
undertake their research.
"Laying hens put out an awful lot of calcium in the form of egg shells,"
said Korver. That output of their bodies' calcium can make their own bones as
fragile as, well, egg shells, he said.
So far, Korver's research points to a form of vitamin D that helps the
chickens absorb more calcium, and demonstrating that allowing the birds to reach
sexual maturity and start laying eggs later in life reduces the liklihood that
bones will become fragile as the chickens age.
"If we can reduce the incidence of osteoporosis, for example, from 10 per
cent of the flock to eight per cent of the flock, we've calculated that would
save the Alberta industry about $160,000 a year, and the Alberta industry is
only about 10 per cent of the Canadian industry."
But the benefits do extend beyond financial considerations. In the past,
the only way to take a look at bone development in chickens involved killing the
birds. For a QCT scan, however, the hen is simply anaesthetised so it remains
motionless for the 20-minute scan, then gradually regains consciousness.
"We are reducing the number of birds we have to put in an experiment at
all, and we're just getting a whole lot more data out of each bird," said
Keeping the chickens alive for the scanning process also means having a
constant data source and fewer variables when it comes to collecting
"The biggest thing that we've been able to do is follow the progression of
a single bird throughout its life cycle," said Korver. "We can relate feed
intake to that particular point in its life and we can relate egg production to
that particular bird."