How to breed more pro­duc­tive hens: don’t pick the su­per­stars

NZ Lifestyle Block - - YOUR POULTRY -

IF YOU’RE A SPORTS FAN, you know the star play­ers: Sonny Bill Wil­liams in rugby, Irene van Dyk in net­ball, Tom Brady in the NFL, Michael Jor­dan in bas­ket­ball.

But star play­ers don’t nec­es­sar­ily make a team an au­to­matic cham­pi­onship cer­tainty, and cu­ri­ously, it’s the same when it comes to breed­ing more pro­duc­tive poul­try.

US evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gist Wil­liam Muir of Pur­due Univer­sity ran an in­trigu­ing ex­per­i­ment to find out what would im­prove egg pro­duc­tion in chick­ens. One se­lec­tion was of the su­per­star lay­ers, the nine best in­di­vid­ual hens in a large flock which were put into one group; the other was a group that were the best pro­duc­ing of all the groups Muir could choose from. He then bred six gen­er­a­tions from each group of hens, us­ing the same cri­te­ria to choose the next gen­er­a­tion, to see which ones would end up the best pro­duc­ers over time.

The re­sults were so shock­ing, it’s re­ported that when he showed them to a con­fer­ence of sci­en­tists, they gasped. The fi­nal gen­er­a­tion of ‘star’ hens con­tained only three birds, and they were al­most feath­er­less; their suc­cess was achieved be­cause they sup­pressed the pro­duc­tiv­ity of the other hens in the cage. The miss­ing six hens had been mur­dered by the top three, and even then the re­main­ing hens con­tin­ued to at­tack each other to the point where they were al­most feath­er­less. Egg pro­duc­tion had dropped dra­mat­i­cally, far be­low the pro­duc­tion lev­els of their su­per­star an­ces­tors.

In con­trast, the team of hens cho­sen for their high group pro­duc­tion were

Choos­ing in­di­vid­ual su­per­star lay­ers doesn’t re­sult in a su­per­star flock

healthy, fully feathered, all got along, and their pro­duc­tiv­ity had gone up 160% in six gen­er­a­tions.

“Muir proved that an­i­mals liv­ing in groups and bred to be more pas­sive sus­tain fewer in­juries and are more pro­duc­tive. For in­stance, chick­ens bred to be less ag­gres­sive don’t en­gage in as much peck­ing, which of­ten causes se­vere in­jury and even death. The en­ergy that an­i­mals used for neg­a­tive be­hav­iour or to avoid such ac­tiv­i­ties is then trans­ferred to pro­duc­tion.”

Sources: Sci­en­tists find method to pick non-com­pet­i­tive

an­i­mals, im­prove pro­duc­tion, Pur­due Univer­sity, 2007

This ex­am­ple is now used by psy­chol­o­gists and busi­ness lead­ers as an ex­am­ple of how cre­at­ing a team of peo­ple that is most pro­duc­tive won’t be a select group of star per­form­ers, but the group with dif­fer­ent ca­pa­bil­i­ties and a com­mu­nal ap­proach that brings them to­gether to cre­ate some­thing big­ger and bet­ter.

How­ever, purely in terms of breed­ing your next flocks for pro­duc­tiv­ity, it’s not al­ways the best lay­ers who have the edge, and tak­ing a group ap­proach to find­ing the best lay­ers is a bet­ter long-term strat­egy.

Sources: Let’s talk about chick­ens and e2.0, www.com­petingonex­e­cu­tion.com https://ag.pur­due.edu/ansc/pages/bmuir_res.aspx

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