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Overfeeding a factor in chicken heart failure, USask research indicates

A USask researcher says feed restrictions could reduce chickens' chances of heart failure.
A USask researcher says feed restrictions could reduce chickens' chances of heart failure. Global News

Up to 30 per cent of broiler chickens are at high risk of heart failure, posing a serious health and welfare problem, according to a University of Saskatchewan research team.

Lead researcher Andrew Olkowski said heart health in broilers — chickens bred for meat production — isn’t fully dependent on genetics.

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“Broiler chickens, actually, react more to nutrition and environment,” Olkowski told Global News.

The evidence lies in the results of feeding two groups of broilers different amounts of food, he said.

“One group can be subjected to certain feed restrictions, so they grow slower (and) the problem of the heart failure becomes absolutely negligible,” he said.

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That’s not the case for chickens that eat as much as they want.

“It becomes obvious that, actually, those chickens are at very high risk of heart failure,” Olkowski said.

The simple fix is to feed them less, he said.

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Doing so, however, would come with economic wins and losses.

“This kind of system would not be economically attractive because, obviously, you would add a lot of time to finish them off to market size,” Olkowski said.

At the same time, less money would be spent on feed and fewer chickens would die or get rejected at the processing plant, he said.

Olkowski noted the primary issue is welfare.

“Everybody would like to have healthy animals and happy animals to give us that food that they provide,” he said.

“We are trying to do whatever we can … to eliminate any problems.”

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