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Chickens With Big Stomachs Equal Better Environment, Study

Update Date: Apr 12, 2013 04:33 AM EDT

Chickens with bigger stomachs are better for the environment, according to a new study.

The latest findings published in the February issue of the Journal of Animal Science suggest that breeding chickens with larger digestive organs couls help limit pollution caused by poultry production.

Researchers explain that waste from poultry farms release nitrogen and phosphorus into the environment, and these pollutants can cause ecological problems like algal blooms in rivers and lakes.

"These result in a loss of plant and animal species and have negative impacts on the use of water for human consumption," study co-author Dr. Agnes Narcy said in a news release.

In the study, Narcy and researchers from the French National Institute For Agricultural Research (INRA) and France's Center of Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD), bred chickens to test whether selecting for larger digestive organ size could reduce the amount of waste excreted by chickens.

Researchers hypothesized that chickens with larger digestive organs would absorb more nutrients from their feed and therefore produce less waste.  They explain that the key organs were the proventriculus and the gizzard.  The stomach-like proventriculus is responsible for softening food using acids and digestive enzymes, and the gizzard is responsible for grinding food. These two organs work together to prepare foods for digestion in the small intestine.

In the experiment, researchers bred three lines of chickens with differing abilities to digest feed.  After rearing nine generations of each line, Narcy and her team found that chickens with larger digestive organs ate less feed and produced less waste.

Based on the study results, researchers concluded that breeding chickens with larger digestive organs could make the poultry industry more environmentally and economically sustainable.  For example, a farmer raising 20,000 chickens could save 9.76 tons of feed per hatch.

"Furthermore, such selection would not affect body composition and meat and bone quality traits at slaughter age," Narcy added.

Researchers said the next step is to pinpoint the genes that control digestive efficiency in chickens.  Narcy and her team say that by identifying the right genes, researchers could help farmers select the most efficient chickens for breeding.

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