Poultry layer breeding key to better egg production

terry-eggWorld egg production has increased at a rate of one million tonne per year since 2005 and is expected to stand at 75mn tonne by 2015. (Image source: United Soy Bean/Flickr)Poultry management is a vital part of egg production as this ensures good quality protein in egg yolk and egg albumen as well as lipids, vitamins, nutrients and minerals and, therefore, producers must embrace custom-made layer breeding

According to Rudolph Presinger, at primary breeder Lohmann Tierzucht GmbH in Germany, for a layer breeding to be effective, the programme must look at least five years down the line in order to gauge future demand as well as consumer preferences and requirements. These will include the market and egg characters sought after by consumers and clearly differing between purchasing groups on various continents and in constituent countries.

Often forgotten, but equally important, are management systems used by poultry producers and checking whether the birds are raised and managed in either traditional cage systems, enriched cage systems or free range.

Choice may simply come down to preference of the producer but recently enacted EU (European Union) legislation outlawing traditional cage systems means producers in the 27-member EU nations are restricted in what they do. Such examples of restrictive and strictly enforced legislation related to bird welfare does not, as a general rule, directly affect Asia, but this is something Asian poultry producers will need to consider if they want to export eggs to other parts of the world where this type of legislation is in place.

It is worth mentioning that the contemporary EU layer housing and management requirements, related to bird welfare and now enshrined in EU legislation, was consumer led. They were established in countries like Germany many years ago, largely due to consumer pressure, and where even stricter and more restrictive laws related to bird welfare may now be in place.

Future demand and requirements

Eggs almost certainly combine the most nutritionally effective and economic source of quality animal protein. This is especially true for developing countries where the biggest on-going increases in egg production and consumption are taking place and especially so in countries where the consumption of meat from other livestock is restricted.

The demand for eggs continues to rise in line with on-going increases in world population which recently passed the seven billion milestone. World population is projected to increase at a rate of around 80mn per year for the foreseeable future. World egg production has increased at a rate of one million tonne per year since 2005 and is expected to stand at 75mn tonne by 2015. In order to match and satisfy these demands, over 50mn hens are being added to world flocks each year since 2005, on the assumption that conditions of layer management can continue to support the genetic potential for a 20kg egg mass produced per laying hen per annum. 

Egg preference

Preferences for particular egg characteristics such as shell colour and egg size differ markedly between countries and also between defined groups of consumers within a single country. Japan, unlike equivalent developed economies and countries in Europe, has maintained one of the world’s highest levels of quality egg consumption at 300 eggs per capita for many decades.

The Japanese custom of cracking and pouring a raw egg over a bowl of rice for breakfast goes a long way to explain this continued demand as well as the Japanese focus on quality — usually white-shelled eggs of superior internal quality and guaranteed free from contamination with Salmonella bacteria.

Coping with change

Layer breeding has demonstrated a remarkable ability to cope with new challenges posed by significant changes in consumer demand and requirements. With suitably timed and significant changes in breeding technique and outcome, the layer breeding industry has maintained its edge over the last fifty years. 

By Dr Terry Mabbett

To continue reading the rest of this article, please see the November/December 2013 issue of Far Eastern Agriculture

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