Arkansas co-leads $10 million poultry production grant
By Mary Hightower
UA System Division of Agriculture
FAYETTEVILLE. – Arkansas research, extension and teaching faculty, in collaboration with Cornell University, are part of an ambitious and wide-ranging $9.95 million multi-university grant that seeks to enhance poultry nutrition and well-being, improve the industry’s water use and better prepare college students for careers in poultry.
The $9.95 million grant, “Empowering US Broiler Production for Transformation and Sustainability,” was awarded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s one of the largest grants ever made by USDA
The Arkansas side of the grant involves poultry science faculty from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and its research and extension arms and the teaching faculty of the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, part of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Arkansas is home to the John Tyson Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, which opened in 1992 to provide support for the state’s nearly $4 billion poultry industry.
“This is an enormously important project for the poultry industry, and especially for Arkansas, where the poultry industry is so important to our economy,” said Mark Cochran, vice president-agriculture for the University of Arkansas System. “This project draws on the strengths of all the participating institutions in a way that we believe will be transformative in the industry. This does not I just attack one challenge, it provides a 360-degree, comprehensive approach.
“Our Center of Excellence is strategically positioned for the breadth of this kind of effort that will connect research from genetics, both in poultry and microbes, production practices, poultry nutrition and health, product development and processing, as well as the human health-promoting characteristics of the consumer and protein product,” he said. “It’s a national recognition of our leadership in poultry science.”
Cornell University is the other major partner in the grant, which also includes faculty from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Mississippi State University and Iowa State University.
“Arkansas’ Center for Excellence in Poultry Science is arguably the best place in the country to do poultry biology,” said Walter Bottje, who is the co-principal investigator for the grant. Bottje is a professor of poultry science. “Partnering with Cornell’s Dr. Xingen Lei, co-project director, brought together a perfect mix of expertise for this project. We’ve all been working on innovations and through this grant, we can bring all of those together in ways that haven’t been attempted before. We are hopeful that some of what we do will have global implications.”
“We see awarding of this grant as a recognition not only of the strength of our research programs, but also of our close ties to the poultry industry,” said Jean-Francois Meullenet, director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station for the Division of Agriculture. “We look forward to seeing this collaboration come alive and the research put to good use across the industry.”
Bottje said researchers at Arkansas will be investigating water efficiency from genetic and dietary studies, as well as heat tolerance and water use and its effects on the poultry microbiome. One example of his is to investigate ways to reduce the amounts of non-digestible material in the diet that can disrupt the microbial environment in the bird’s hindgut that can lead to a number of bird health and management issues.
Water is an essential factor in keeping poultry houses cool enough for birds to thrive and grow. One of the most widely used means for cooling poultry houses is an evaporative system that uses vertical pads through which water passes. Large fans at the end of the poultry house pull air through the pads, making the air more humid to provide evaporative cooling. However, a misting system that sprays water droplets directly into the air in the house, followed by the fans being turned on, provides convective cooling. Convective cooling uses 60-70 percent of the water used by evaporative systems. The grant project will fund extension outreach to encourage adoption of the more water-efficient method.
Microalgae and feathers
Bottje said researchers at Cornell and Arkansas will also examine the potential for microalgae as an animal feed; its potential to convert poultry litter into biofuels and vegetable oil; as well as its ability to produce other valuable products such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamin D and enzymes such as phytase to enable better absorption of phosphorus, and keratinase, which can break down feathers, freeing up a protein that’s digestible.
“We are very interested in developing the next generation of farmers, professionals and leaders for the poultry industry,” Bottje said. To do that, the grant effort will:
• Develop a summer student internship program to integrate research and promote collaboration among the members of the grant consortium.
• Develop a Masters in Professional Studies in Sustainable Agriculture Systems, based on a course of study already in place at Cornell.
• Create additional opportunities for minority students in poultry industry careers, including a course through UA-Pine Bluff, Arkansas State University and Oklahoma State University that will also include a year’s coursework in Fayetteville.
• Foster development of an MS research program at UAPB.
All of the findings from the grant will be transferred to the poultry industry and the public through extension work, including workshops, national meetings, poultry veterinarian meetings, poultry short courses, displays at state and county fairs, 4-H meetings and various digital communications, including a newsletter and social media.