Breeding Robust Performance

At this year’s National Turkey Federation Convention opening breakfast, Aviagen Turkeys hosted over 200 leaders from across the industry.  The focus of the program was “Driving High Profits Through Robust Performance”.

Paige Rohlf, Research and Development Manager, kicked off the program with a review of how consumer attitudes and the turkey industry have changed over time.  She set the stage for the morning by defining what “robust” means to Aviagen. Our turkeys are grown in a range of climates, in a variety of conditions and on different types and qualities of feed.  These birds need to be robust, healthy and strong to perform well wherever they are raised.  Our pedigree birds are grown in a highly biosecure environment and if we only select the ones that do well in that environment, they might not do as well in the “real” world.  Therefore, we have to find ways to identify birds that will thrive in the field and under various growing conditions.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Santiago Avendano, is Aviagen’s Director of Global Genetics, overseeing the research and development programs for all of the company’s pedigree broiler and turkey operations around the world. He went on to explain Aviagen’s history of selecting for robust performance and some of the innovative techniques that are used in selection.

A multi-disciplinary team helps advance the breeding program. An example is having an in-house microbiologist, Dr. Richard Bailey. Dr. Bailey has been studying the turkey gut and its impact on performance. Both in people and turkeys, the gut plays an important role in overall health.   Dr. Bailey has developed a scoring system to evaluate gut health and has identified two key biomarkers to assess gut health on live birds.  These biomarkers allow us to evaluate gut health for our potential pedigree turkeys.

Multi-environment selection is also an integral part of the selection process now.  Siblings of the pedigree turkeys are placed on a commercial farm.  This farm provides a more challenging environment for the birds and is more of a “real world” experience.  This allows us to score families based on their performance in both environments.

What more can we do? We shared our genomics program last year.  Robustness is one of the areas where we can improve our selection accuracy and performance by using genomics combined with the multi-environment information.

Dr. Jihad Douglas wrapped up the morning by highlighting the range of people that work with the Aviagen breeding program.  Our R&D teams have moved from having only geneticists to a multi-disciplinary team including geneticists, molecular geneticists, microbiologists, bioinformaticians, genomics specialists and statisticians.   We currently have a team of about 15 people working on cutting edge approaches to predict breeding values combining both quantitative and molecular sources of information. As a breeding company, we must take a long-term approach to R&D and invest in the people and the resources to continue to develop robust and healthy turkeys.

Aviagen Turkeys appreciates the opportunity to host the lead-off breakfast for the National Turkey Federation Convention and we look forward to seeing everyone in Nashville next year.