Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Managing Poultry Health to Support Soybean Demand

Photo: Huaguang Lu

By Barb Baylor Anderson

Pennsylvania is the number four chicken-producing state in the country – and a critical market for the soybeans grown by the state’s farmers. With funding from the Pennsylvania Soybean Promotion Board, researchers are studying the effects of novel avian reovirus (ARV) variants on egg-laying hens to determine efficacious control strategies to keep chickens healthy.

“Newly emerging ARV variants and novel strains have been causing major poultry disease issues and economic losses in Pennsylvania,” says Huaguang Lu, Penn State University clinical professor and avian virologist. Lu is the principal investigator for the checkoff-funded research. “Effective control and prevention strategies for avian virus infections in poultry flocks are critical to keeping poultry healthy and ensuring constant soybean consumption.”

Soybeans are the major protein component in poultry feed. On average, 27.5 percent of the broiler feed ration comes from soybeans and 16.5 percent of the layer feed ration comes from soybeans, Lu explains. Since more than 180 million head of broiler chickens in Pennsylvania consume about 450 million pounds of soybeans annually, a 1 percent reduction in poultry mortality related to avian viral infections would increase soybean consumption by 4.5 million pounds. High mortalities of 10-20 percent were often present in ARV-affected broiler flocks by emerged ARV variants strains.

Lu’s study looked at infectivity, transmission, immune response, length of infection and effects on egg production for three index strains of layer ARV and tested the efficacy of non-metallic or “soft” disinfectants in laying hen flocks. Data was developed on the most effective control strategies to prevent ARV infections and recommendations were created for soft disinfectant use in poultry production flocks.

“Between January 2011 and January 2020, we obtained 644 ARV field isolates. Our research findings indicated that about 80 percent of the isolates were newly emerging field variants. We also confirmed that ARV infection in adult layer chickens is usually present without clinical symptoms. High rates of virus shedding and vertical egg transmission have been severe problems in causing disease in progeny or young chicks,” says Lu. 

Research also indicated egg-laying hens previously exposed to ARV were well protected and soft disinfectants effectively inactivated or killed ARV under laboratory conditions.

“We will continue our research studies on these newly emerged ARV field variant strains so we can come up with the most effective ARV vaccine development. We want to maintain a healthy poultry industry and promote a healthy soybean industry at the same time,” says Lu.  

Published: Sep 28, 2020

The materials on SRIN were funded with checkoff dollars from United Soybean Board and the North Central Soybean Research Program. To find checkoff funded research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.