PREVIOUS research studies have shown that poultry litter applications have many benefits for corn and soybean producers, but these benefits have not been quantified or integrated into one comprehensive research study.
Now, University of Kentucky extension soils specialist Edwin Ritchey is leading a study to explore whether poultry litter applications can increase yield, allow for better water infiltration, improve soil's water-holding capacity and add organic matter to the soil on western Kentucky corn and soybean operations.
He will also study whether one of the crops receives more value from the poultry litter, if nutrient values vary among different poultry litter sources and if producers receive a yield boost from applying both poultry litter and nitrogen to their fields.
"This research should determine whether poultry litter, in addition to providing plant nutrients, can improve soil quality without adversely affecting insects, diseases and weeds," Ritchey said. "If it can, and if producers can economically obtain it, it might be preferred over a strict use of commercial fertilizers."
As part of the research, University of Kentucky extension weed scientist Jim Martin and extension plant pathologist Don Hershman will study the effect the poultry litter has on weeds and disease pests, particularly the soybean cyst nematode.
The study is being funded by the Kentucky Soybean Promotion Board and the Kentucky Corn Growers Assn.
In 2012, Ritchey selected four producers' fields in Daviess, Hopkins, McLean and Henderson counties in Kentucky for the study. He selected these fields because they have low to medium nutrient values in the soil and issues with soybean cyst nematodes. The fields range in size from three to five acres.
Researchers gathered initial baseline data from the fields in 2012 and sampled the fields more intensively in March. Researchers will apply poultry litter to two corn fields and two soybean fields in the spring prior to planting. They will collect data throughout the growing season, culminating with yield data at harvest.
Greenhouse research to test for the presence of weed seed in poultry litter began in January at the University of Kentucky Research & Education Center. Field research concerning whether poultry litter alters weed species or weed growth will begin in the spring and continue throughout the season, with the goal of collecting samples before the grower applies herbicides, the announcement said.
"There's some concern that poultry litter may contain weed seed and, that by applying poultry litter, growers may introduce new and different weeds into a field," Martin said. "We're not sure if that's the case, so that's why we're testing the poultry litter in the greenhouse and in the field."
In addition, Ritchey received the results of the 2011 poultry litter nutrient tests conducted at the university's Soil Testing Laboratory this winter. He will analyze these results to see if the nutrient content varies among poultry ages, types and integrators.
Skeletal health in laying hens is a major welfare and economic problem, with up to 80% of hens suffering bone breakages in some free-range systems.
A new three-year study in the U.K. will aim to reduce the fracture rates in laying hens as part of a £532,000 grant funded by the U.K.'s Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and supported by industrial partner Noble Foods.
The research project will be led by Drs. John Tarlton and Michael Toscano from the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences and Dr. Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova in the university's department of engineering mathematics.
Collisions are believed to be the principle cause of keel bone fractures in free-range systems, the announcement said, but the difficulty in observing breaks as they occur prevents researchers from more clearly understanding the determining factors.
With the 2012 ban on battery cage systems in the European Union, as many as 30 million hens will be housed in alternative systems, mostly free range. This means 24 million hens could potentially have bone breakage each year in the U.K., which the industry and government view as unsustainable.
Noble Foods, the U.K.'s largest egg marketing company, will play a central role in the study by providing open and free access to its varied housing systems.
The study will first replicate keel fractures in an ex vivo impact testing apparatus. Bird characteristics such as weight, age and mechanical properties of the keel bone as well as collision factors like impact energy and material compliance will be mathematically modeled to understand how these elements interact to determine fracture occurrence and severity. The model will predict the likelihood of fractures occurring in a bird or flock.
The model will then be validated using live birds wearing specially designed vests fitted with tri-axial accelerometers that are capable of measuring the kinetic energy of natural impacts of birds within defined housing environments, the announcement said. Thus, the energy and frequency of impacts a bird actually experiences will be quantified and related to the model.
On-farm studies will use the accelerometers to determine kinetic energy profiles within particular commercial housing systems, which have previously been shown to impart widely differing fracture risks. The impact monitors will provide a physical measure of housing risk and allow the researchers to test the model in predicting real fractures in commercial settings, BBSRC said.
Tarlton, senior research fellow in Bristol's infection and immunity group and principle investigator on the grant, said, "By analyzing their kinetic energy profiles, we can rapidly assess the keel bone fracture risk of commercial housing systems. From this, we can identify key elements of housing or bird physiology that can be modified by producers to substantially reduce fracture rates. If successful, this study will greatly improve the health and welfare of laying hens, enhance consumer attitudes to egg production and promote the sustainability of the U.K. egg industry."
The three-year study will combine statistical and computer modeling techniques with biomechanical and biochemical analyses and skeletal welfare assessments to enhance the health and well-being of the hens.
Meanwhile, in the U.K., a new research center for poultry is being built.
Work has begun on a 14 million British pound National Avian Research Facility (NARF) at the University of Edinburgh's Easter Bush campus in Scotland, according to an announcement from BBSRC.
Its resources will be made available to both national and international researchers studying issues that affect avian health, such as the spread of infections.
Research could range from looking at diseases that have a huge economic burden on the industry, such as campylobacter and salmonella, to developing vaccines against infections.
Construction of the facility, which is due to be completed in late 2014, is being funded by BBSRC, the Roslin Foundation and the University of Edinburgh.
The initiative also involves collaboration between The Roslin Institute, which is incorporated with the University of Edinburgh Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, and The Pirbright Institute in Surrey, England. Both institutes are strategically funded by BBSRC.
Key aims for NARF include addressing the need for improved sustainability in poultry production in light of an increasing global population and a need to reduce foodborne diseases.
Roslin Institute director David Hume said, "This building is a key component of the ongoing development of the Easter Bush Campus and reflects the growing portfolio of research that The Roslin Institute is undertaking with the aim of improving the health and welfare of chickens."
NARF will include sterile areas -- known as specified-pathogen-free -- for poultry with different genetic compositions that are resistant to viruses, bacteria and parasites. It will also include conventional avian accommodation as well as laboratories for research.
Roslin Institute professor Pete Kaiser, who will lead NARF, added, "Chickens are a production animal of major economic importance around the world, with 50 billion birds being bred every year. This facility will provide The Roslin Institute and its partners with an outstanding environment for undertaking the studies that will lead to major improvements in poultry health and welfare."
The facility will enhance research already carried out at The Roslin Institute, such as studies in avian immunology, vaccine development and the role genes play in disease resistance. Researchers from The Roslin Institute were also part of a team of U.K. scientists who produced genetically modified chickens that were unable to spread bird flu.
Important breeds of chickens could be safeguarded from extinction by the latest stem cell technology at The Roslin Institute, where scientists are finding ways to take stem cells from chicken eggs so that they can be kept in a "frozen aviary" and used to bring back breeds of birds that might become wiped out by outbreaks such as avian influenza.
They will be stored in a stem cell bank that will be located at NARF.
Research already underway has shown that it is possible to take chicken stem cells directly from the embryo in chickens that can then be used for fertilization in the future to breed birds.
Dr. Mike McGrew with The Roslin Institute recently discussed his research at the TEDxDeExtinction conference.
"Using stem cells can help safeguard rare breeds, which could be wiped out as a result of disease. Stem cell technology will also help to ensure that we are able to maintain important breeds, for instance, to ensure that we have chickens that can adapt to warmer climates as a result of global warming. It is possible that, in the future, this research could be applied to endangered species of birds," McGrew said.