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Cranberries may boost broiler chicken immunity

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Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Cranberry extracts, derived from the pulp of pressed berries, may be a promising, natural treatment to increase the life expectancy of young broiler chickens.

Healthier birds, with enhanced immunity from a natural source, could reduce production costs for farmers while meeting consumer demand for high-quality, antibiotic-free poultry products.

Dr. Moussa S. Diarra, a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) Guelph Research and Development Centre, is currently conducting trials to examine the effects of cranberry fruit extracts on the immunity of broiler birds during their first 14 days of life, a critical period when "they need something to build up their immunity" against infectious disease. "Young birds are fragile and can be hit by several types of infections" if preventive measures aren't administered, he notes.

Cranberries have long been used in human nutrition and are reported to have various human health benefits because of their high antioxidant compounds and immune-boosting properties. "If they are good for humans, why aren't they for other animals?" speculated Dr. Diarra.

"Results have shown that cranberry extracts could decrease mortality by 50% in the early life of broiler birds, when treated with 40 mg of cranberry extracts per 1 kg of feed."

- Dr. Moussa Diarra, Research Scientist, Guelph Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Dr. Diarra is the first research scientist in Canada to study the benefits of cranberries on the immune systems of broiler chicks. Since cranberries "are already accepted in human consumption," it may be possible to satisfy producers' needs for cost-effective, benign methods to increase animal health by using a food by-product, he notes.

Dr. Diarra and his team conducted a research study of broiler growth performance that was jointly funded by AAFC and the Canadian Cranberry Growers Coalition. The team fed commercial cranberry fruit extracts, derived from cranberry juice, to 1,200 one-day-old male broiler chicks. The chicks were studied in a sanitary facility, where mortalities were examined in comparison with non-treated chicks for up to 35 days. The results have shown that "cranberry decreased mortality by half" in one-to-10-day-old birds, when treated with 40 mg of cranberry extracts per 1 kg of feed.

Dr. Diarra explains that increasing birds' resistance to the colonization of pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella, while boosting overall birds' immunity, can increase the sustainability of chicken production.

Currently, Dr. Diarra is leading a multidisciplinary team of scientists and farmers in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island to examine whether extracts, derived from the cranberry fruit waste (pomace), can replace the use of antibiotics in the young broilers. Pomace is otherwise discarded after the berries are pressed, but, "we can use this by-product," to develop extracts instead, he notes.

Additionally, the trials will look at meat quality, because the antioxidants in cranberries could help increase storage time. This is because antioxidants prevent the oxidation of molecules in the meat, maintaining freshness, Dr. Diarra explains.

The study speaks to greater issues in animal production, including the increasing need for viable alternatives to using antibiotics as growth promoters and increasing antibiotic resistance. The anticipated results could be advantageous for both producers and consumers.

The Guelph Research and Development Centre is part of AAFC's network of 20 research centres across the country. Located in Guelph, Ontario, the Centre is committed to specialized research in the areas of food safety, quality and nutrition to ensure Canadian-produced food is the safest and highest quality in the world.

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Photo gallery

Cranberry extracts used in chicken trials are derived from pomace, a by-product of juicing
Dr Moussa S. Diarra
Dr. Moussa S. Diarra, research scientist at AAFC, studies the effects of cranberry extracts on broiler chicken immunity
28-day-old experimental broiler chickens

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