The Department of Poultry Science conducts research on the complete life cycle of poultry from the egg through the adult bird. Scientists conduct experiments to improve poultry processing and the quality of meat. Other studies examine feed alternatives, vaccines and bedding materials. Researchers also study game bird species.
Learn more at poultry.msstate.edu
Approximately 2 million individuals in the U.S. contract foodborne illnesses from Salmonella and Campylobacter. While the first line of defense against these common bacteria is safe food handling practices by processors and consumers, Chander Sharma, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Poultry Science, is working to rid poultry of these common bacteria before it leaves the processing plant. He, along with a team of MSU scientists, is researching the use of lauric arginate, an antimicrobial compound approved by the USDA, as a processing aid assisting in the fight against Salmonella and Campylobacter. He is evaluating the use of bacteriophage—a virus that attacks bacteria—to combat the problem as well.
Improving food safety from the farm to the processing plant
Microbiology researcher Aaron Kiess evaluates new methods of reducing poultry exposure to pathogenic bacteria, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella, which harm consumers and reduce broiler industry profits. Kiess examines how poultry house litter management can help prevent this problem. He found that bacterial concentrations are reduced and other benefits are achieved when litter is treated using a process called “windrowing,” in which litter is piled in rows down the length of a broiler house. Heat generated in the composting piles partially sterilizes the litter. Changes in other variables, such as pH, ammonia, and moisture, may also play a role in improving litter quality and need further study. Kiess also studies the role of vertical transmission, the process by which adult chickens spread bacteria to their offspring.
Poultry scientist Chander Sharma researches methods of controlling food-borne pathogens in processed chicken products. He examines the effectiveness of USDA-approved antimicrobials that reduce the number of pathogens in poultry products. These antimicrobials have the potential of improving the safety of food products. Sharma also studies natural antimicrobials, such as rosemary, sage, and oregano.
Giving chicken hatchlings a boost
Chicken embryos are made up of water, protein, and fat. To get the energy they need to hatch, embryos must convert that protein and fat into carbohydrates. To help hatchlings retain protein and fat for growth, poultry scientist Wei Zhai is developing a procedure for injecting eggs with carbohydrates before they hatch. Zhai uses a commercial multi-egg injector to deliver uniform amounts of carbohydrates into each egg. Mississippi State is the only academic institution in North America to own this machine, which was donated by the pharmaceutical company Intelliject. Research indicates that injecting carbohydrates into eggs leads to good hatching and provides an early boost in body weight. MAFES scientists are now working to determine the most efficient amount of carbohydrates to inject into eggs. Other studies focus on whether injecting vitamins into eggs will help bone growth in chickens. Another benefit of injecting nutrients and vaccinations into eggs is that it alleviates bird stress by reducing the amount of handling they face after hatching
Finding the right diet for broilers
Poultry scientist Kelley Wamsley studies the nutritional content and manufacturing processes of poultry pellet feed. Since feed and feed manufacture represent about 60–70 percent of the total cost of raising a chicken, one small change could affect cost and performance. Wamsley’s research indicates that high-quality pellets are worth the price, especially for Mississippi poultry integrators who grow heavy broilers. These birds require a longer grow-out period, thus consume more feed. Research showed that poor-quality pellets result in poor performance. Pellet quality can deteriorate during transportation and as feed is distributed through grow-out houses, causing nutrients in the feed to segregate. High-quality pellets are more likely to stay intact and deliver a nutritionally complete diet. Wamsley also studies how alternative feed ingredients affect pellet manufacture and bird performance. As costs increase for corn, soybean meal, and other feed ingredients, there is a great need for high-quality, less-expensive alternative ingredients.
MSU researches poultry health, growth
MAFES researchers are investigating ways to improve the nutrition and growth of the state’s most profitable bird. One of the current projects is helping determine ways to increase the hatchability and health of broilers. Injecting eggs, also known as in ovo injection, is used to vaccinate poultry for diseases, but MSU researchers are finding a new way to use the procedure.
Chicken embryos are made up of water, protein and fat. To get the energy they need to hatch, they have to convert that protein and fat into carbohydrates. So that the hatchlings can reserve their fat and protein for needed growth, scientists are injecting eggs with carbohydrates before they hatch.
Thus far, the research indicates that in ovo injection of carbohydrates can provide benefits to commercially grown poultry with an earlier increase in body weight and good hatching. Scientists are also experimenting with injection of vitamil supplements.
Distillers' Grains as a Feed Supplement
Increased ethanol production also means increased stocks of the by-product distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS), as well as increased interest in finding uses for the nutrient-rich grains. A MAFES study evaluated second-cycle Bovans White laying hens that were fed varying amounts of DDGS. Researchers looked at layer performance, egg characteristics and consumer acceptability. Results showed that DDGS could comprise up to one-third of a commercial layer diet without any significant detrimental effects on the production or egg characteristics of second-cycle hens. A similar study measured breast and thigh meat quality in broilers fed DDGS-supplemented diets. Overall, the diets yielded high-quality breast meat, and thigh meat quality was similar among diets containing up to 12 percent DDGS.
Treatments to Reduce Bacteria
Poor hatchability can occur due to eggshell bacterial contamination, which can be decreased by UV light or hydrogen peroxide. However, the antimicrobial effects of these two treatments combined are not known. MAFES scientists sought to determine if a greater bacterial reduction would occur using a combination of UV and hydrogen peroxide. Results indicated that the combined treatments further reduced bacterial contamination compared with each treatment individually.
MAFES Scientists Develop New Processing Technique
Technocatch, a poultry processing research company, recently teamed with processing company OK Foods and MAFES to develop an alternative to electric stunning and gas systems for processing chickens for consumption.
The new method, called LAPS (low-atmospheric pressure system), uses a vacuum system to reduce oxygen levels in a machine that can house up to 60 broilers per chamber. LAPS eventually renders the birds unconscious and then — borrowing a term coined by the USDA — "irreversibly stunned."
Initial testing for LAPS began in the Mississippi State poultry laboratory. LAPS received the American Humane Association (AHA) seal of approval, and the USDA officially stated it has "no objections to the system or its protocol." LAPS provides a humane method of processing poultry compared with the current methods employed.
Researchers Make 'Elusieve' Dreams Happen
Ground corn flour, soybean meal and distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) — a by-product from ethanol production — comprise more than 70 percent of swine and poultry diets. While these ingredients are important for livestock nutrition, they are high in fiber, which is not easily digested by swine and poultry. Feed producers needed a system to remove the fiber while maintaining vital nutrients.
MAFES scientists developed a process called "Elusieve" that uses a combination of sieving and air classification to separate fiber from feeds. This technique sifts particles into four sizes and then blows them with air to remove fiber. They found that fiber separation increases starch content of ground corn flour by 3 percent and increases protein contents of DDGS and soybean meal.