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UMD Professor Receives $1M from USDA NIFA to Increase Poultry Yield and Advance Animal Well-Being

December 6, 2017
Contacts: 

Samantha Watters, 301-405-2434

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Professor Tom Porter, Ph.D. has been awarded two grants, totaling $1M, from the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) to explore ways to increase poultry yield and meat production while improving the lives of the animals. Additionally, Porter will examine the natural growth hormone processes and resistance to heat stress caused by severe weather patterns. 

“By 2050, the world will be in the wake of a large food shortage,” explained Porter, professor in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences. “To meet the demand of a growing population and combat hunger, it is anticipated that meat production alone will have to increase 43 to 47 percent across the board, with little to no new land or space for meat production. This presents a major food crisis.”

Porter has been studying the mechanisms behind natural growth hormone production in poultry for 27 years, with consistent federal funding for his work. His research has explored what controls production of the bird’s own growth hormone, when it begins, how to target the DNA to control growth hormone production, and what cellular mechanisms are involved. Porter will use the grant from USDA NIFA’s Animal Nutrition, Growth, and Lactation Program to continue this research. 

“If there is no new land for meat production, the best way to meet our agricultural and food supply needs is through more efficient and effective growth,” said Dr. Porter. 

By inducing the natural growth hormone production process a little earlier in chick development, critical parameters like body weight, yield, composition and feed efficiency (or the amount of feed needed to produce a pound of meat) may be improved, providing more insight into these mechanisms. 

In addition, funding from USDA NIFA’s Animal Well-Being Program will support a new research project. To improve animal welfare, well-being, and overall poultry production, Porter will use the grant to develop a protocol to easily condition chicks to better handle heat waves as adult birds. Chickens begin to exhibit significant heat stress at sustained temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. With the ever increasing extremes in our global climate, heat waves with prolonged temperatures over 95 degrees are increasingly common. Significant heat stress not only causes the birds to suffer, but often leads to premature death on a large scale. Eggs are normally incubated at 99.5 degrees, and chicks are kept at 92 degrees thereafter. Exposing chicks to 100-degree heat for an additional day when they are young, reduces heat stress and mortality rates by 50 percent.  What is not understood is how this mechanism works, how this affects poultry production and overall yield, and if the protocol can be optimized with more or less conditioning.

“I am a physiologist, and really an endocrinologist, so understanding the mechanisms that regulate hormones and stress is what I enjoy,” said Porter. “But everything we do is to improve the well-being and lives of the animals themselves and to ultimately improve poultry production. That is the key to this work.”