Each year farmers around the world raise 35 billion chickens for food. Each bird that hatches is raised carefully for 42 days so it reaches a weight of 2 kilograms and is then brought to a slaughterhouse.
A researcher from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot has developed a system for reducing this period of raising chickens by one day - the shorter period means less feeding. The system involves injecting nutrients into the egg three times before it hatches and it could save hundreds of millions of dollars.
Poultry farming is one of the world's largest businesses. In America alone 8.6 billion poultry birds were raised for food in 2002.
Farmers watch the birds carefully as they grow, giving them special mixes of food until they reach the desired weight. Improvements that accelerate the process can save farmers large sums of money.
Chicks hatch from eggs at an average weight of 50 grams and reach a final weight of 2 kg after 42 days. Scientists have for years searched for ways to reduce period of rapid weight increase, which would be equivalent to a 3 kg baby reaching a weight of 120 kg after a month and a half.
Dr. Zahava Uni, from the Animal Sciences department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Faculty of Agriculture, has determined that the feeding process can begin before the eggs hatch. A mixture of sugar, proteins and natural substances can be injected into the eggs and this improves the chick's digestive system, Uni says, making it digest food more easily after it is hatched, so the amount of mix it needs can be reduced by several grams.
Such injections three days before an egg hatches have a number of advantages, Uni explains. "The chick hatches with a weight that is 5 percent more - that is, at 53 grams. This might seem like a marginal difference, but by the time the chick reaches day 42, its weight is 60 to 100 grams more. This means that it reaches the optimum weight of 2 kilos on the 41st day, saving one day."
Uni says the saving of one day per chick could translate into total annual savings of $150 million for the poultry industry.
AvianTech and Embrex companies have joined together to try to bring Uni's discovery to the poultry industry.