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Poultry To Get High-Tech Boost from Science

By Jan Suszkiw
October 8, 1997

Poultry farmers, processors and consumers stand to benefit from new technologies under development by researchers at the Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center (BARC), part of USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

At the center's Poultry Field Day on Oct. 7, ARS scientists discussed their latest technologies for improving poultry health, production and processing, including:

  • An experimental meat tenderizing process called hydrodyne. The approach uses shockwaves that instantly soften muscle tissue in packaged, boneless chicken breast meat submerged in a chamber of water. Now, the broiler industry must first age breast meat on the carcass for 4 to 7 hours, increasing storage, labor and refrigeration costs.
  • A process for making air filters, diaper absorbents and other non-woven pulp or paper products using keratin fiber from chicken feathers. Why feathers? More than 2 billion pounds are produced annually, creating a solid waste disposal problem for poultry plants. Fiber-based products would open new markets that could raise the feathers' worth.
  • A patented, edible gel vaccine that newborn chicks eat to immunize themselves against avian coccidiosis, an intestinal disease caused by single-celled protozoa of the species Eimeria. Coccidiosis costs poultry farmers about $350 million annually in losses and treatment. New alternatives are sought because of Eimeria's increasing resistance to anticoccidial drugs like salinomycin.
  • An automated poultry inspection system. The system uses special cameras and imaging techniques to spot chicken carcasses with signs of disease or other defects at the slaughter house. BARC studies show the system can distinguish unwholesome birds from acceptable ones at a commercial rate of about 90 per minute with 96 to 100 percent accuracy. This could be a boon to industry, which processes more than 7 billion chickens annually.