A STUDY has found that a common feed additive used in swine, poultry and fish production can improve bone strength in laying hens.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute concluded that the nutritional additive, betaine, could complement programmes to improve bone quality in hens which are at risk of osteoporosis.

In a separate Roslin study, it was found that selection for hens with an adaption to store calcium that is associated with bone strength, known as mineralisation of medullary bone, could also improve bone quality.

Researchers believe findings from both studies could aid poultry breeders in deciding which animals to breed.

Chickens were fed with one of four diets containing different amounts of dietary betaine, from when they were hatched until they stopped laying eggs.

Blood and bone samples were collected at different stages. Analyses measured the concentration of a blood component that is inversely linked to bone quality, and bones were examined with X-rays and a bending test.

Addition of dietary betaine improved bone strength in laying hens, scientists observed. Egg production and quality was excellent throughout the study and were not affected by the dietary treatments.

“Our results demonstrated that adding betaine to the diet of laying hens makes their bones stronger, therefore improving animal welfare of these food-producing animals,” said Maisarah Maidin of the Roslin Institute.

The study was funded by animal nutrition technology company AB Vista. Research and Development Manager from AB Vista, Dr Natasha Whenham, added: “The performance benefits of using betaine as a feed additive in poultry diets are thought to be well known. However, understanding how this additive can be used to alleviate welfare concerns in laying hens through improved bone quality, without affecting egg quality or production, is an exciting development and extends benefits of betaine further.”