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Whole wheat grains to improve the feed of laying hens

An international collaboration involving researchers from the INRA Poultry Research Unit, ITAVI (French Technical Institute for Poultry Production) and the University of Sokoto in Nigeria, associated with CIRAD and the company INZO, has shown that a diet that alternates the distribution of wheat grains and a protein supplement improved the assimilation of feed in laying hens without affecting egg production rates. This system, referred to as sequential feeding, opens some very interesting perspectives for the poultry industry, from both the economic and environmental points of view.

Blé tendre d'hiver variété Eureka. Zone nord et sud.. © INRA, WEBER Jean
Updated on 06/26/2013
Published on 02/08/2011

More than fourteen billion eggs are laid each year in France. This level of production can meet the demands of French consumers for fresh eggs or for transformed products used by the agrifood industry (egg products used to produce pastries, pasta, etc.) or catering and restaurants (RHD). Most of these eggs are produced by hens raised in cages. Eggs remain one of the least expensive sources of animal protein.

In recent years, the poultry industry has introduced production standards that are more respectful of both animal welfare and the environment, but these technical modifications to rearing methods can generate additional costs. Nonetheless, the industry must remain competitive.

When calculating the production cost of an egg, the hen's feed is the most costly element. Laying hens receive a complete feed that is rich in protein and calcium and contains a mixture of different cereals. These complete feeds have the advantages of a constant composition and ease of use. However, feed production requires a high consumption of energy, for the transport of raw materials and the processing of cereals. Because hens are able to digest whole grains, the use of non-ground cereals would allow the industry to reduce its feed costs and improve its competitiveness. Furthermore, the energy savings achieved would lower the carbon footprint of the eggs produced (particularly if the cereals are consumed on or close to their site of production).

During this collaborative project, the scientists studied the behaviour of laying hens receiving feed that contained whole wheat grains. They subjected three batches of 80 hens to different feed regimes. The first group received a conventional diet of a complete feed made up of meals. The second group received a mixture of wheat grains and a protein-mineral concentrate. The diet of the third group alternated during the day: in the morning, wheat grains were provided, while in the afternoon they were fed a protein-mineral concentrate ("sequential feeding" group). Pullets were fed in this way during an adaptation phase (weeks 16 to 18 of age), and then during their laying period (weeks 19 to 46). Throughout the experimental period, the weights of birds and the quantities of food ingested were measured. During the laying period, egg production was evaluated.

The researchers demonstrated that sequential feeding enabled the maintenance of egg production while reducing food intake. The feed conversion ratio (g feed ingested/g of egg mass produced) in the sequential feeding group was the lowest of the three groups, thus emphasising the improved feed efficiency of these laying hens for egg production. But the scientists also pointed out that for this feeding method to be successful, the adaptation phase of pullets before the start of laying was essential. Similar results have been obtained using sorghum or millet in Nigeria, which means that sequential feeding could be of particular interest in the context of sustainable poultry farming in developing countries.

Scientific contact(s):

  • Philippe LESCOAT Poultry Research Unit, 37380 Nouzilly
Information contact:
Jacques Le Rouzic

Find out more

  • M. Umar Faruk, I. Bouvarel, N. Même, N. Rideau, L. Roffidal, H. M. Tukur, D. Bastianelli, Y. Nys, and P. Lescoat (2010). Sequential Feeding Using Whole Wheat and a Separate Protein-Mineral Concentrate Improved Feed Efficiency in Laying Hens. Poultry Science, 89 : 785-796.