How do Broiler Breeders and In-ovo Feeding Impact on Chick Quality?

Sandro Cerrate, PhD

Credinser LLC, Madison, Alabama

Published: April 6, 2020

     Sometimes chicken flocks resulted in less livability and body weight at seven days of age than other ones without knowing the reason. Besides, this reduced performance at an early age has a carryover effect until the market age. What was the cause? Probably, the lower broiler performance is mostly related to the quality of the chicks that arrive at the farms. Indeed, the broiler breeders, incubation process, or in-ovo feeding impact on chick quality.

     The eggshell temperature, brooding temperature, and additives may influence also the chicken growth at an early age, as described in Pasty Vents in Broiler Chickens. Poultry managers should identify those variables to avoid bias in chick quality analysis. For example, if the mortality is higher than 1.0% at seven days and brooding management was excellently managed, likely the incubation process or broiler breeders provoked this diminishing chick performance. The strong relationship of body weights between seven days and market age indicates that the importance of chick quality and his carryover effects.

     To excel at the chick quality, the (a) breeder management, (b) dietary breeder nutrients, and (c) in-ovo feeding are analyzed.

a) Breeder management

     The breeder management implies different aspects, which are directly related to the rearing of birds, such as stress factors, feeding allocation, and egg management (Figure 1). Maternal stress conditions increased the egg corticosterone levels, impairing the hatchability and offspring’s live weight in barn swallows (Saino et al. 2005). These findings remain feasible as a concept and open opportunities to run stress conditions in broiler breeders.

Figure 1. Effect of stress, microcrack, overweight, and dirty eggs on progeny chickens.

stress, microcrack, overweight, and dirty eggs on progeny chickens

Note: (-) negative responses on progeny live performance.

     Fasting period, noise, or predators can be considered stress factors that may trigger the levels of corticosterone. To demonstrate, enlarging the length of the fasting period for pullets has also elevated the corticosterone levels in mature broiler breeders (Ekmay et al. 2010). The latter fact might induce a carryover effect during the production phase and progeny live performance. Even more, broiler breeder hens fed two or three times per day generated better progeny feed conversion and body weight as compared to one meal per day (Gholami et al. 2017).

     Egg management is crucial to avoid crack, floor, and dirty eggs. Microcrack eggs and egg overweight by facilitating the egg contamination cause a high incidence of rotten eggs during the incubation. These rotten eggs increase more as eggs become dirty allowing bacterial penetration, embryonic, and chick mortality. As expected, rotten eggs during the incubation produced higher embryonic mortality (van den Brand et al. 2016) and chick mortality (Barnett et al. 2004). For this reason, cleaning dirty eggs (Yoho et al. 2008) and avoiding floor eggs before setting in the incubation will reduce the incidence of rotten eggs.

     To avoid floor eggs, Valle (2008) suggested placing perches in the rear period, stimulating jumping, and nesting behavior. Besides, the following techniques may reduce the possibility of non-nest eggs as collecting the floor eggs frequently, avoiding dark areas in a lay house, the timing of feeding and lay should not match, setting up to 5.5 hens per nest, and nest or slat height up to 50 cm.

b) Dietary breeder nutrients

     The type of nutrients and feeding of broiler breeders notably affect the progeny performance. Diets for roosters may include a wide range of antioxidant nutrients, that along with proper male bodyweight management, might promote the semen quality and concomitantly the progeny performance (Figure 2). As compared to female diets, these enriched male diets will be cheaper in chick output per nutrient intake and producing a similar positive impact on chick quality. On the other hand, hen diets that include fiber, proper amino acid balance, antioxidants, nutrients for egg mineralization, and antimicrobials will control the egg overweight or egg rotten and finally will enhance the chick quality.

Figure 2. Effect of rooster and hen diets on progeny live performance.

Note: (+) positive response and (-) negative response on progeny live performance.

Note: (+) positive response and (-) negative response on progeny live performance.

Rooster diets

     Roosters fed antioxidants stimulate the chicken quality along with growing antioxidant properties and fertility. Male older breeders providing antioxidants improved markedly the testes weights, progeny body weight by 70 grams, and feed conversion by 0.10 or 10 points (Triques et al. 2019). These given antioxidants consisted of 8 ppm of canthaxanthin, 40 ppm of lycopene, and 150 ppm of vitamin C. Moreover, male breeders fed 500 ppm of vitamin C (Khan et al. 2013) and 0.5 g of lycopene per liter of water (Mangiagalli et al. 2010), increased the semen quality and fertility by 10%, respectively. In the same way, roosters fed several additives enhanced the semen antioxidant capacity and fertility. These metabolites were guanidino acetic acid, carnitine, ginger, curcumin, apple pomace, and rosemary leaves (Akhlaghi et al. 2014a,b; Tapeh et al. 2017; Borghei-Rad et al. 2017; Kazemizadeh et al. 2019). Inferring, this antioxidant capacity not only protects the semen polyunsaturated fatty acids but also transfers their chemical components into the eggs.

     At the same time, it is essential to keep a positive body weight gain as male ages for avoiding a seminal fatty acid damage, and thereby enhancing the fertility and chick quality. Animals in a fasting state have reduced the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the testes (Dayangac et al. 2011). As a result, any reduction in the testes weight due to decreasing feed intake or body weight gain will affect the semen quality. For this reason, it is crucial to calculate the feed intake accurately, by using algorithms as described in How to Improve the Fertility and Hatchability in Broiler Breeders. In particular, as compared to constant feed intake during the lay period, male breeders fed escalating feed intake from 100 to 124 grams per day earned better progeny body weight by 140 g and feed conversion by 3 points at 42 days (Romero-Sanchez, 2005).

Macronutrients in hen diets

     Hens fed macronutrients as fiber, protein, amino acids, and oils displayed a carryover effect on progeny performance. Notably, broiler breeder hens fed more dietary crude fiber from 4.0% to 6.4% rose notably the offspring live weight and livability (Enting et al. 2007) by controlling the egg size and possibly enhancing the immunity. Another way for decreasing large egg size and fortifying chick quality is by adjusting the amino acids, in particular the digestible lysine. To illustrate, hens receiving balance amino acids and lessened protein and lysine in the laying period boosted the progeny live performance. For example, female broiler breeders fed less digestible lysine intake between 700 and 1000 grams, but keeping constant all other amino acids, enhanced the progeny feed conversion (Ciacciariello and Tyler, 2013) in 5 points at market age (Mejia et al. 2013).

     Conversely, field information suggests that pullets fed smaller amino acid intakes than needed developing less fertile eggs at late production, and less progeny livability. Also, feeding fish oil to breeder hens might affect chick quality negatively. As an illustration, breeder hens fed 1.5% of fish oil affected the progeny live weight and feed conversion negatively (Koppenol et al. 2015). The high levels of docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic in hens fed fish oil may shift the fat metabolism, transferring the fatty acids from the yellow follicles to the abdominal fat, and also slowing down the synthesis of albumen.

     It is a common misunderstanding that large eggs derive in big chickens. Ulmer-Franco et al. (2010) demonstrated, for instance, that large eggs did not yield extra progeny body weight at market age. On the other hand, if the eggs are smaller than recommended for a particular hen age, the progeny body weights at market age will be diminished by 120 g at 29 weeks of age, and by 40 g at 59 weeks of age (Ulmer-Franco et al. 2010). Hence, a proper egg weight profile will result in better progeny chick quality.

Hen nutrients on egg mineralization

     Limestone size, mineral, vitamins, and additives in hen diets do affect the egg mineralization, thus influencing the rotten eggs and chick quality. Calcium and vitamin D metabolism is critical for improving the eggshell quality. Accordingly, hens need two sizes of limestone as 20% of fine (0.5-2.0mm) and 80% of coarse (2-4 mm) for supplying calcium during the day and night during eggshell formation respectively. This mixture of limestone sizes will increase the egg specific gravity and reduce the hairline crack eggs.

     Calcium digestibility (Scheideler, 1998) and the enzymatic conversion for calcitriol (Abe et al. 1982) impacted negatively as hens age. For this reason, hens fed calcitriol decline the incidence of egg breakage (Tsang et al. 1992) by facilitating the deposition of calcium during egg formation. Furthermore, hens fed sodium bicarbonate, vitamin C, and organic trace minerals fortified the eggshell quality (Frank and Burger, 1965; Manangi et al. 2015; Chung et al. 2005), consequently diminishing the incidence of hairline eggs.

     Additives lessening the dirty and cracked eggs will also support chick quality. To illustrate, dirty and crack eggs diminished in half when older breeder hens fed dietary short fatty acids or organic acids (Sengor et al. 2007). This positive response might be explained by the higher retention of calcium and phosphorous when the organic acids acidified the intestinal digesta (Youssef et al. 2013; Khong et al. 2014).

Hen nutrients on antioxidant

     Hens providing antioxidants increase the egg antioxidants and stimulate probably the chick quality. In the same way, hens fed 6 ppm of canthaxanthin enlarged the antioxidant properties in eggs (Rosa et al. 2012). In this study, the progeny performance was not measured. Nevertheless, broilers from in-ovo feeding of canthaxanthin at 0.05 mg/egg grew better at 28 days as compared to those from the water injected group (Ismail et al. 2019). Similarly, breeder hens fed a combination between canthaxanthin and 25OHD3 yielded better progeny feed conversion and breast meat yield at 21 days of age (Araujo et al. 2019). The latter variable was rose better as an additive effect when both hens and chickens fed this combination.

Hen nutrients on antimicrobials

     Older literature suggests that hens fed antibiotics benefit the progeny bodyweight satisfactorily (Bentley and Hershberger, 1954). However, modern studies are missing about the impacts of broiler breeders given antibiotics on progeny performance in comparison with new alternatives. In contrast, current progeny studies using alternatives for antibiotics have been tested for potential replacement of antibiotics, yet without comparing with antibiotics.

     For instance, female broiler breeders fed combination between essential oils and organic acids in corn-soybean based diets enriched the progeny body weight in 485 grams, feed conversion in 16 points, and humoral immunity (Toosi et al. 2016). In this study, eggs injected with this combination indicated a similar trend, though with fewer degrees. Broiler chickens from this in-ovo combination grew, for example, heavier by 153 grams and converted better the feed by 13 points as compared to those from a water in-ovo injection.

     The inclusion of Bacillus subtilis in breeder hen diets generated better offspring body weight in 236 grams and feed conversion in 10 points at 56 days old as compared to those from hens fed without this probiotic (Owen, 2017). Interestingly, broiler chickens fed this probiotic, without hens fed this additive, showed similar advantages in terms of body weight and feed conversion as those chickens from hens fed the Bacillus subtilis. This striking information reveals that not only the probiotics will offer advantages to broiler chickens directly, but also hens fed this additive will yield exponential gains over progeny broiler chickens, considering that one hen equates around 145 chicks.

     Female broiler breeders feeding β -glucans and mannan-oligosaccharides derived from yeasts presented better progeny body weight, feed conversion (Araujo et al. 2018), and breast muscle meat (Kidd et al. 2013). The progeny advantages from this prebiotics seem to increase as breeder hens grew older.

c) In-ovo feeding

     In the last years, a growing number of in-ovo feeding studies reported positive events on progeny performance, immunity, breast muscle yield, and intestinal growth (Figure 3). This type of research opens fields for further studies either during the broiler breeder diets or during the in-ovo feeding. Principally, do these nutrients producing positive responses from in-ovo feeding might imply a certain degree of hen nutrient deficiencies? If they do illustrate maternal nutrient deficiencies, could those nutrients be also added to hen diets without affecting the breeder performance? To analyze the significance of the in-ovo treatments, the author selected only the trials that included the in-ovo saline or water group for comparative purposes.

Figure 3. In-ovo feeding on progeny live performance.

Figure 3

Note: (+) positive responses on progeny live performance.


     The use of  glucose in ovo (100 mg/egg) produces better body weight by 110 grams and feed conversion by 8 points as compared to those from the control group (Salmanzadeh et al. 2012). When eggs received in both the glucose and magnesium (4 mg/egg), the broilers grew better in 218 grams, converted more the feed by 15 points, and deposited more the breast meat yield in 1.1%. According to these authors, glucose and magnesium support the energy status elevating the glycogen reserves and saving the muscle protein for the post-hatch growth.

Amino acids

     The in-ovo feeding for methionine, cysteine, and lysine shows uneven responses on broiler performance. In-ovo technique of methionine+cysteine strengthened, for instance, the progeny antioxidant capacity (Elwan et al. 2019; Elnesr et al. 2019); nonetheless, in-ovo feeding of either lysine or methionine did not affect the body weight and feed conversion (Coskun et al. 2019). Compared to those amino acids, in-ovo feeding for threonine, arginine, and tryptophan reveals consistent outcomes. The in-ovo solutions with the only arginine without lysine resulted in more than 100 grams of body weight at 35 days as compared to those from eggs injected with saline water (Shafey et al. 2014).

     Additionally, in another research, chickens from eggs injected with arginine at 17 days of incubation increased the breast muscle yield and breast amino acid concentration at 21 days of age (Yu et al. 2018). Under other conditions, adding threonine through the yolk or the amniotic fluid fortified the immunity (Kadam et al. 2008), villus growth at 21 d (Moreira-Filho et al. 2019), body weight, and feed conversion at 42d (Toghyani et al. 2019). Another in-ovo amino acid depicting great results is tryptophan. This amino acid enhanced the progeny breast meat yield (33.1% vs 31.1%) and livability at 35 days (Nayak et al. 2018).

     Therefore, in general, these current studies indicate that feeding in-ovo arginine, threonine, and tryptophan will be beneficial on the chicken performance, and adding in-ovo methionine+cysteine may benefit the antioxidant capacity.


    The studies of in-ovo feeding with vitamins are extensive and overwhelming. Chicks from eggs injected with 60 IU of vitamin E hatched more from 86% to 92% and grew faster the duodenum villus at hatch (Araujo et al. 2019). In this study, the addition of vitamin E up to 27.5 IU developed better feed conversion at 21 days of age. Similarly, eggs injected at 2.4 ug of 25 OHD3 derived in better feed conversion by 7 points at 14 days (Fatemi et al. 2019). In the same vein, chickens from in-ovo feeding of thiamine (B1) or nicotinic acid (B3) grew faster at 28 days and market age, respectively (Bhanja et al. 2012; Parnian et al. 2019).

     Contrarily, in ovo-feeding of several vitamins did not affect the broiler performance. These vitamins are vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin (B2), folic acid, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine (B6), cyanocobalamin (B12), betaine, and choline (Glodek et al. 2010; Bhanja et al. 2012; Gholami et al. 2015; Momeneh and Torki, 2018; Parnian et al. 2019; Zhang et al. 2019).


     In-ovo combination of minerals and vitamins showed positive outcomes on broiler chicken performance. Organic trace minerals as glycine chelates, phosphate, and vitamin D3 injected in eggs strengthened the bone ash content at 38 days of age (Yair et al. 2015). Moreover, in-ovo feeding of different copper sources as sulfate, acetate, and nanoparticles boosted the chick weight at hatch (Arafat et al. 2019).


     Consistently, chickens from eggs injected with galacto-oligosaccharides grew heavier by 80-100 grams at market age as compared to those from eggs with saline solution (Pruszynska-Oszmalek et al. 2015; Dankowiakowska et al. 2019; Slawinska et al. 2020). Furthermore, in-ovo feeding of mannan-oligosaccharide enlarged the villus height and jejunum area at hatch (Cheled-Shoval et al. 2011). In contrast, in-ovo feeding of raffinose and inulin displayed similar broiler performance as those from the saline group (Maiorano et al. 2012; Pruszynska-Oszmalek et al. 2015).


     Chickens from an in-ovo combination between inulin and Lactococcus lactis grew faster (Pruszynska-Oszmalek et al. 2015). However, in-ovo feeding of Lactobacillus animalis, Enterococcus faecium (Beck et al. 2019), and a combination of Lactobacillus salivarius and galacto-oligosaccharides (Tavaniello et al. 2019) did not affect the body weight, feed conversion, and carcass yield.


     Fertile eggs injected with 6 mg or 12 mg of creatine pyruvate enlarged the chick body weight (~6%) and breast muscle yield at 21 days as compared to the saline group (Zhao et al. 2017). The creatine as an energy reserve in the chicks might conserve the protein reserve in the muscle and use for posthatch protein growth. Carnitine, a metabolite responsible for the fatty acid transportation into the mitochondria, promises as an alternative to be used as in-ovo feeding. As an example, the injection of L-carnitine at 32 mg/100 uL boosted the feed conversion in 4 points at 45 days of age (Dooley et al. 2011). Herein, compared to this in-ovo L-carnitine, the extra addition in broiler of dietary L-carnitine (50 ppm) from in-ovo L-carnitine eggs yielded similar results on broiler performance.

      The application of honey in ovo at 17 days into yolk sac stimulated greatly the feed conversion by 20 points, body weight by 178 grams, and intestinal villi height by 19% at 42 days of age (Abdullah et al. 2018). These excellent benefits of honey might be explained due to his antibacterial and antioxidant properties (Alzahrani et al. 2012) which might depend on his polyphenols and organic acids (Mato et al. 2003; Alzahrani et al. 2012), being tartaric acid the highest among the organic acids (Keke and Cinkmanis, 2019). For instance, in-ovo feeding of honey modified the caecal microflora reducing Salmonella and Escherichia coli and increasing Lactobacilli positively (Memon et al. 2019).

     Coenzyme Q10 injected in ovo at 0.2 ml per egg improved the immunity system, body weight by 310 grams, and feed conversion by 14 points (Kalantar et al. 2019). In this study, this additive, which is essential in the formation of ATP, also elevated the hatchability and chick weight at hatch.

Nutrient enrichment

     Could these in-ovo nutrients, as shown in Figure 3, be fed in broiler breeders above their requirements and induce depositions into the eggs? Indeed, several trace minerals and vitamins (Table 1) augmented their concentrations into the eggs when hens fed dietary nutrient levels generally above their requirements.

     On the contrary, few dietary trace minerals and vitamins did not respond linearly on their deposition in eggs. Particularly, when hens fed copper from 9 to 20 ppm or manganese from 60 to 80 ppm, the copper or manganese in egg plateaued (Berwanger et al. 2018; Li et al. 2018). In agreement with this finding, Nober et al., (1979) proposed that enrichment of dietary amino acids, ascorbic acid, calcium, phosphorous, sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and copper produce little or no variation in eggs. In contrast to those suggestions, vitamins in the eggs responded linearly by adding nutrients above their requirements, except for pyridoxine. To illustrate, hens fed pyridoxine above 3 mg/kg plateaued up to 5 mg/kg (Fuller et al. 1961).

Table 1. Hen nutrient levels that influence their nutrient deposition in eggs.

Hen nutrient levels that influence their nutrient deposition in eggs

Note: 1Up to those levels of dietary nutrients increased linearly their egg nutrient concentration. 2Requirement from a primary breeding company. yAbove those dietary levels their egg nutrient contents were constant.


  • Progeny live performance and chick mortality are affected by rotten eggs and corticosterone of broiler breeders. Thus, stress conditions elevate egg corticosterone, while egg management as microcrack, overweight, and dirty eggs influences the rotten eggs.
  • Positive body weight gain and dietary antioxidants in roosters promote the semen quality, progeny live weight, and offspring feed conversion. Hen dietary macronutrients, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and antimicrobials yield better progeny performance by controlling the egg weight and rotten eggs, whereas fish oil reduces the chick quality.
  • In-ovo feeding of glucose, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, organic acids, essential oils, prebiotics, probiotics, and metabolites promote the broiler performance. On the other hand, enrichment of some dietary breeder vitamins and trace minerals might influence the egg content and chick quality.

The author declares that this article was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. Every attempt has been made to ensure that the material in this article is accurate, true, correct, and relevant at the time of writing. However, the author accepts no liability for any omissions, damage, loss, or financial consequences of using this article.

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