The University of Arkansas research and extension was chosen to work with Cornell University on efforts to increase sustainability in poultry production from water savings to better bird nutrition and enhance education for careers in the poultry industry. A $9.95 million federal grant will fund the research.
The grant was awarded by the National Institute of Food & Agriculture as part of the USDA. Arkansas’ part in this research involves poultry science faculty from across the University of Arkansas’ System Division of Agriculture, which supports research 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 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.”
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 this 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 intestines that can lead to bird health and management issues.
The grant will also look at ways to foster less water usage by poultry houses. Water is an essential factor in keeping poultry houses cool enough for birds to thrive and grow. Bottje said 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 the adoption of the more water-efficient method.
The research will look for more efficient ways to use all of the birds and the litter they create more sustainably. 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.
There is also an education component to this grant research that will develop a summer student internship program to integrate research and promote collaboration among the members of the grant consortium. It will also develop a master’s program in professional studies in sustainable agriculture systems modeled after a program already in place at Cornell University. It seeks to 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. The grant will also foster the development of a Master’s of Science Research program at UAPB.
“We are very interested in developing the next generation of farmers, professionals and leaders for the poultry industry,” Bottje said, noting this grant will go a long way in doing that.
Jean-Francois Meullenet, director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station for the Division of Agriculture, said this grant is recognition of the strength of the research programs across the UA system, particularly the close ties to the poultry industry.
“We look forward to seeing this collaboration come alive and the research put to good use across the industry,” Meullenet said.