Increased and improved chicks from the breeding flock

20-05-2010 | | |
Increased and improved chicks from the breeding flock

The main objective in breeder production is to obtain chicks of the highest quality while achieving the most efficient production parameters. This depends on many factors, including proper management of feeding rations with essential nutrients. New solutions are available.

By J.M. Hernandez, M. Soto-Salanova, B. Ibarra, DSM Nutritional Products Ltd.

The result of continuous innovation in the field of genetics, management, nutrition and incubation systems is the production of a high yielding breeder, which requires optimum nutrition to maximise genetic potential. Every egg placed in the incubator that does not become a chick of excellent quality represents an opportunity for improvement, and its associated economic benefit (Figure 1). To maximise the profitability of breeding operations, it is necessary to produce as many eggs per housed hen as possible, while optimising the hatchability rate and the quality of day-old-chicks. Optimal nutritional status of breeders is essential for the effective transfer of nutrients to the embryo. Higher concentrations of essential nutrients are associated with improved hatchability, liveability, performance and healthier chickens. DSM Nutritional Products recently launched Rovimix® MaxiChickTM, a product combining two nutrients of proven reputation such as 25-hydroxy-D3 and canthaxanthin (patent applications pending).


Carotenoids such as canthaxanthin are essential ingredients in animal feed. They are not only important as pigments but also serve as health promoting antioxidants and as precursor of vitamin A when required by the animal metabolism. Among natural antioxidants, carotenoids play important roles in avian reproduction by maintaining antioxidant defences of the embryonic tissues. Increased carotenoid concentration in the chicken embryo decreased the susceptibility of the tissue to lipid peroxidation during embryo development. The antioxidant and immunostimulatory effects of carotenoids are especially important during the immediate post-hatch period, and important for the viability of the offspring.

Canthaxanthin is one of the more efficiently deposited feed carotenoids in the egg yolk and embryonic tissues, which is why DSM has selected this carotenoid for poultry feed application (Carophyll® Red).


Calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D3 are essential to strengthen the bird’s skeleton, the eggshell, as well as to promote maintenance of healthy bone development. Vitamin D3 or more specifically the metabolite 25-hydroxy-D3 is vital for optimal calcium and phosphorus utilisation.

In birds, 25-hydroxy-D3 plays a crucial role in: bone mineralisation; calcium and phosphorus homeostasis; immune system modulation to reduce early embryo mortality; remodelling the structural bones; and, muscle satellite cells. Birds fed vitamin D3 have to convert it into 25-hydroxy-D3 via a complex metabolic pathway. Research and practical experiences worldwide show that modern commercial poultry are not able to convert enough vitamin D3 into 25-hydroxy-D3 to provide optimum levels of this metabolite to support the bird’s requirements, especially under intensive production conditions.

Hy•D® is a feed additive that contains 25-hydroxy-D3 and so bypasses the metabolic step that has to be undergone by standard vitamin D3.

More eggs

In order to obtain more and higher quality eggs, we must first focus on building a better quality hen. The key is to maximise the strength of the pullet frame during rearing and maintain this strength during the laying cycle. Breeders that are fed 25-hydroxy-D3 will have the optimum levels of 25-hydroxy-D3 required to support the bird’s skeletal development despite the stress of production and/or enteric diseases, thus contributing to: achieve better bone development; optimise calcium/phosphorus meta- bolism; increase laying rates; increase lay persistence; and, improve shell quality. Santos and Soto-Salanova reported promising production performance results in breeders. The supplementation of 25-hydroxy-D3 was linked to increased laying, higher egg weight and improved eggshell thickness (Table 1, data from 2005).



More chicks

To maximise the fertility of eggs and hatchability of the embryo during the breeding phase, an optimal nutritional status of breeders is essential for the effective transfer of nutrients to the embryo. The result of recent studies suggest that high concentrations of essential nutrients in the embryo, such as canthaxanthin and 25-hydroxy-D3, supplied via maternal supplementation, are related to improved fertility and lower embryo mortality during the first phase of embryo development.

With intensive production today, it is not uncommon to face fertility issues in breeding flocks affecting both males and females. Recent experiences have shown a positive effect of canthaxanthin and 25-hydroxy-D3 on fertility contributing to an overall improvement in this parameter with the flock. In a study using Avian breeders, week 49-59 weeks of age, and another study run with Cobb 500 breeders aged 45-66 weeks, the results support the view that a maternally derived combination of 25-hydroxy-D3 and canthaxanthin has a strong influence on improvement in egg fertility and reduced embryo mortality. In both of these experiments, roosters as well as breeder hens received the same diets (Table 2, data from 2008, and Figure 3, data from 2009).

Higher quality chicks

Optimal nutrition is essential not only for an adequate health and performance status of the breeder, but also for the direct impact it has on chick quality. The most active metabolite of vitamin D3 is 25-hydroxy-D3, being the only metabolite able to support cellular functioning of embryo development of chicks when supplemented as the only source of vitamin D3. Numerous trials show that the maternal supplementation with 25-hydroxy-D3 increases hatchability and the number of first quality chicks by supporting the development of the embryo and improving chick early innate immune function.

The effects of supplementing breeder feed with 25-hydroxy-D3 were examined by Korver and Saunder-Blades (Figure 2, data from 2005). Their results suggest that feeding the breeder with 25-hydroxy-D3 contributes to the adequate development of the embryo and improves the innate immunological function of chicks from the start.

Canthaxanthin is a carotenoid with potent antioxidant activity. Besides having one of the highest deposition rates in the yolk sac (around 40% of the dietary level), it is also deposited effectively in the liver and other tissues of the embryo and chick. The embryo uses this antioxidant source to counteract the harmful effect of free radicals, resulting in a greater survival rate and better quality of the one day-old chicks.

Research in 2007 showed that the antioxidant status of the blood serum, measures by TBARS analysis and Randox test provide greater antioxidant activity in chicks originating from hens fed with canthaxanthin, thus decreasing the oxidative stress in these birds (Table 3, data from 2007). Additionally, Souza et al showed in 2008 that the optimal combination of both ingredients produced better chicks due to a positive residual effect on the immune and antioxidant systems of the chick during the critical first days of life (Table 4, data from 2008).

Raw material stability

Raw material stability is a critical factor in feed production for breeder hens. Currently, the need to guarantee the production of pathogen-free diets for breeder hens has forced producers to subject raw materials to thermal processes, which become more aggressive day by day. The supply of raw materials with commercial forms of the highest quality is thus of the utmost importance. The active ingredients in the Rovimix MaxiChick formula are highly stable and their recovery after pelleting ensures their full activity in all types of feed.


Rovimix MaxiChick as a combination of Canthaxanthin and 25-hydroxy-D3 has proven to be an efficient tool to further optimise egg production, egg hatchability and chick quality. In recent years, it has become evident that in the cell not only the vitamin E concentration itself but its association with other natural antioxidants is what determines the efficiency of antioxidant protection of the embryo. Experimental evidence indicates that 25-hydroxy-D3 may exert effects such as shell thickness, egg fertility and weight beyond those induced by vitamin D3. This suggests that combining most stable, quality and reliable forms of canthaxanthin and 25-hydroxy-D3 would be beneficial for the fertility and the production of more viable chicks for higher economic returns (Figure 3, data from 2009).

References are available upon request

Natalie Berkhout Freelance journalist