A REVIEW ON
Archived at http://orgprints.org/7196
POULTRY BREEDING STOCK
This report is written on behalf of Nordic Genbank Farm Animal organisation by the
- Prosjektleder. Poul Sørensen, Danish Institute for Agricultural Sciences
- Sekretær: Birgitta Danell, Agricultural University, Sweden
- Faggruppe: Ulrik Brenøe, Agricultural University, Norway
Maria Tuiskula-Haavisto, Agricultural Research Centre, Finland
Det group were given det terms of reference.
Dokumentere status av produksjonsraser og linjer av eggleggende høner i
Norden som kan brukes i eggproduksjon på golv, inklusiv økologisk
produksjon. Prioritere forsknings- og utviklingsprosjekter (og kostnader) som
eventuelt trengs for å dekke flaskehalser til at golvproduksjon kan
gjennomføres innen 2012 (enkelte land tidligere). Dyrevelferd skal trekkes inn
som et av kriteriene i vurderingen.
The group have held three meetings and otherwise communicated by electronic
The initiative of NGH 5
Breeding policy in the past 5
Poultry and market differentiation 7
The world wide trend in breeding with poultry 9
The structure of poultry production and systems in the Nordic countries. 9
The public attitudes to how the poultry production should look like 12
The EU-legislation 12
The differentiation in egg and meat production, and some of the consequences 14
Quality of eggs and its inheritance 15
The external Qualities. 15
The internal quality 16
The free range/organic production concept 17
The risk of narrowing the genetic diversity in numbers of line and breeds 18
Do we have poultry production in all part of the Nordic countries and is it realistic to think of free
range poultry in all areas in which there are poultry. 21
NATIONAL DESCRIPTIONS 21
The Swedish report 21
The Norwedian report 22
The Danish report 24
The Finnish report 28
OVERVIEW OF BREED AND LINES IN
NORDIC COUNTRIES. 28
Summary on breeds and lines 33
EXPERIENCES FORM FREE RANGE AND
ORGANIC EGG PRODUCTION REGARDING
:REARING, HEALTH, EGG PRODUCTION,
CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTION FOR
FURTHER INITIATIVE 38
The initiative of NGH
The conservation and sustainable use of animal genetic resources are the major
undertakings in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In the Nordic
countries the concern about genetic resources have lead, even before CBD was
agreed upon, to the establishment of institutions for plant and for animal genetic
resources. NGH, Nordic Gene Bank for Animals, has been given a mandate to
stimulate the conservation as well as the sustainable use aspect in the Nordic
countries. This involves projects and missions over a wide range, out of which the
current report is one example.
Breeding policy in the past
In next to all domestic species used in the Nordic countries the breeders run breeding
programmes with no economic state support but under state supervision. The
increasing international trading followed by an open flow also of animal genetic
material between countries has put all national breeding programmes under strong
competition. The commersial breeders have been forced to cooperate with each other
or to expand in order to remain viable
The commercial poultry production in the Nordic countries has over the past 30-40 years
changed from numerous small flocks reared in multi-species farms to few large scales
specialised poultry farms. The result of this development is poultry farms with an average of
15.000 laying hens per farm. Such a concentration requires high hygienic standards. One of
the element to achieve that being use of the "all in all out principle" requiring a large number
of chickens to be hatched and ready for the hen house at the same time. An other element to
support the high concentration of laying hens was the introduction of cages in which it was
possible to keep hens in units of small numbers of birds per cage.
This development, which has run parallel in most developed countries, has had a major
influence on the structure of poultry breeding programs. The major consequences being the
establishment of large breeding units with associated multiplications programmes with
hatcheries that are able to deliver a high number of day old chicks per batch. These days 3-5
world wide companies provide the major part of the chickens of layer type bird, of which the
major part will produce in cage systems in large farms. These trans-national companies
operate on purely market-oriented business and survive on low price and high quality.
Thus as a result the national poultry breeding programmes with layers in the Nordic
countries were closed one by another from the 1970-ties in Sweden- , from 1981 in
Denmark- , 1998 in Finland and 2002 in Norway.
In the short term this have led to increased access to superior animals for production
systems where they had the chance to fully express their genetic capacity. The
responsibility, however, for the long term development including access to proper
genetic material and proper development from breeding has moved out of the
National control. This situation is very much the case in poultry. The industry is
growing rapidly and steadily fewer international companies serving all commercial
production run the breeding. The marketed hybrids are all made up of by different
combinations of the same fairly few selection lines.
Public concerns from ethical and environmental reasons about the intensive
production systems in layer- and broiler production are calling for changes. Some of
these changes have already been decided upon, such as forbidding traditional cages,
asking for more ecological production and diversification of the broiler production.
All this is expected to take place while improving animal health and food safety.
There is no doubt that these changes also will have impact on the desirable make up
of traits of the used breeding material. It is also most likely that the international
companies will not consider the demands from the market unless representing a
market share big enough. Thus, there is an evident risk for a loss in efficiency if the
new systems are adopted with no concern given to the genetics of the breeding
material and the need for new breeding programmes with new breeding goals in
accordance with the changed requirements.
Poultry and market differentiation
The production systems have undergone dramatic changes in all sectors of the
livestock industry in developed countries. Egg and poultry meat production are
leading the development and are today next to industrialised with very big units
under intense and efficient management. These units are making up for almost 100 %
of the commercial market in the Nordic countries. Niche production of various kinds
as well as production for own consumption exist. In Sweden small flocks with up to
200 animals made up 2 % of the total number of hens, in Denmark this figure is 2.3%
for flocks up to 100 hens. Although there is a concentration of the production
towards bigger and fewer units, now counted in hundreds farms per country, there
are still some people around keeping a small flock of poultry on farms. In some
regions of the Nordic countries there are farms selling eggs directly to consumers,
this way are in later years hampered by rules of zoonotic programmes. The hobby
breeders, on farms or elsewhere, are to be added. The numbers of these are unknown
or very uncertain. In Denmark a very high figure, 16 mill kg eggs or 20-25 % of the
total production, is given for egg produced for own consumption. The number of
hens or flocks is not known. However, in other Nordic countries the number of
small-scale poultry breeders is most likely small and can only be counted in
thousands. This means that in our countries poultry production does takes place off
the neighbourhood of most people. In developing countries on the other hand, back
yard production with poultry is the common situation and constitutes an important
source as income generator and as food. Our message is that with respect to poultry,
Nordic people are urbanised and are loosing knowledge and insight about the
animals as well as about the production. This fact has bearing on the conceptions
carried by the public and on their views on the development. Whether the
development will continue along the same route or poultry will regain an increasing
interest among people, as e.g. sport and social animals like horses and dogs, is
difficult to predict.
Today breeding stock suitable for commercial production, for subsistence producers
and for fancy or hobby breeders is quit different. In particular fancy breeders, who
gives no or very little weight to production and function in their breeding, cannot be
expected to contribute to the gene pool for poultry meat and egg production. The
fancy breeds are therefore not considered in this report.
Markets for poultry egg and meat is still growing rapidly mainly due to the high
flexibility and efficiency and the low prices. Future markets for poultry are likely to
remain strong and grow even stronger. The production is efficient, flexible and can
be set under full management control. Environmental restrictions, food quality
aspects like taste of meat and concern about animal welfare might change or at least
influence on the development. How and when is to be guessed, but if such a change
does take place we expect to see a much more diversified production more closely
connected to local requirements and production circumstances. Such a development
will be followed, or has to be supported, by more genetic variation in the breeding
stock and by poultry breeds (lines or hybrids) with a better genetic adaptation to
Under the described circumstances NGH took action and initiated a review project.
The purpose of the project is:
To organise available information on poultry breeding stock in the Nordic
To organise existing information on comparisons of breeds or lines in different
production and management systems.
To evaluate the production potential of breeds in the Nordic countries and
propose projects for further evaluation of breeding stock.
To evaluate the forms for and if possible propose a program for a
development towards a Nordic Poultry Breeding programme.
The world wide trend in breeding with poultry
When the construction we now know as cage was first introduced in North America shortly
after the 2nd world war the start of a completely different life for the laying hen was initiated.
It was not realised until almost 20 years later that the genetic improvement of egg production
obtained in cages was not reflected to the same level when the same hens were tested under
floor condition with litter (Lowry & Abplanalp, 1970, Dickerson & Mather, 1976). In other
words a Genotype x System interaction was introduced, or one could speak of a genetic
adaptation to life in cages.
The cage was of special interest for breeders in their selection for higher laying
intensity. Before the introduction of cages genetic improvement was based on either
progeny test of males based on daughter groups placed in small pens, or individual
recording of laying capacity based on trapnest control in floor pen. Introduction of
individual cages for hens improved the possibilities for a more precise recording of
the individual hen and therefore also a better response to selection for higher egg
yield. In the Scandinavian Selection and Crossbreeding Experiment carried out in
the years 1970 to 1980 (Liljedahl et al. 1979), selection for high egg number to 42
weeks of age was twice as effective in cage system as when based on floor system
(Sørensen, 1992). Thus the cage introduced some 50 years ago, and mentioned first
time in Poultry Science in the 1956 volume, has increased in egg yield with more than
2 eggs per year over the last 30 years (Flock, 1999). The production today (2002) is 310
eggs during 360 days from 140 day of age.
The structure of poultry production and systems in the Nordic countries.
In the Nordic countries the cage systems has long been the system for commercial egg
production which in practice means that the eggs are market through an authorised egg dealer.
The egg-producing farms having the cage system, are often organised such that they have a
multiple of 20.000 laying hens, which is the size of a unit that could be managed by one
person provided that removing of manure, egg collection and feed supply are automated.
There are rules about the size of arable land needed for disposal of manure, the so-called
“harmony requirement”. In Denmark this is at the moment 300 hens per hectare, but some
reduction in requirement of land is possible.
Having hens in Barns or in Free Range systems a common flock size is about 10.000 animals
which can be managed by one person under the condition that some automation is installed.
Rearing of chickens from dayold is often performed at separate farms that keep the chickens
until 16 to18 weeks of age after which they are transferred to the egg producing house. Such a
rearing farmer will often raise two sets of chickens per year and often for more that one egg
producing farmers a time. Part of these Rearing Farms are direct run by the owner of the
parent stock. It is suggested that chickens who later will be producing on floor/free range
system has to be reared in floor systems, otherwise most chickens are reared in cage systems.
There is regulation under way from the EU regarding how to keep laying hens, that at least
three of the countries have to follow, they will be mentioned later. There are also national
rules that narrows the figures given above. In Norway the upper limit for an egg producing
farm are 5.000 laying hens, a higher number requires a special permission obtained from the
Ministry of Agriculture.
In an EU regulation on marketing standards for eggs (EC, 1651/2001) text on the packs
should be one of following three:
1. Free range eggs
2. Barn eggs
3. Eggs from cages hens
A closer definition are given under the section of EU-rules.
For organic egg production the rules are driven by other canals. As a major requirement
organic reared hens has to kept in Free Range system and there are limits on flock sizes of
3.000 hens. In Denmark this is often managed by having either 2 flock or 4 flocks each on
3.000 hens in order to reach a numbers of hens that gives a sufficient size of income and work
for one or two persons.
Distribution on the different system as they appeared in 2001 in the various countries is seen
in Table 1
Table 1 Numbers of hens and the relative share of the various production systems
Norway Sweden*) Denmark Finland
Numbers of hens, mill 2.7 5.3 3.7 3.2
Traditional cage 92.3 50.0 61.3 80.0
Enriched cage 1.0 25.0
Barn system 0 21.7 16.4
Free Range System 5.7 8.9 7.5
Other systems 10.0
Organic Systems 1.0 3.5 13.2 2.5
*) The traditional cages are forbidden and it is predicted that in January 2004 no hens will be
in the old type of cages.
The important message from Table 1 is that a considerable proportion of hens are at the
moment producing in non-cage environment in the Nordic countries, and looking over the last
10 years it is an increase from very little to more than 20% of the hens.
In Finland the rate of free, organic and special eggs is increasing every year.
The industry and producer will have only production by agreement in future to stabilization
The open question at the moment is: Will the development of enriched cages be attractive for
the farmers to work with and are they giving sufficient economic returns? The key question
is: Will the consumers accept to bye eggs from hens kept in these new types of cages?
In addition there are a considerable amount of hens in back yards prod using eggs for home
consume. The numbers of these hens are unknown, but in the Danish statistics there has for
many years been given a figure of 16 mill kg eggs which are eggs not marked through the
authorised Packing Centres. These amounts account for between 20 and 25 % of the total egg
production in Denmark. This figure may be to high after the rules introduced of selling eggs
from farms that the hens has to be under zoonotic control. There are also such a sale in other
Nordic countries but at a lower rate, and no statistic exist on that.
The public attitudes to how the poultry production should look like
The laying hen in cages has been used as an example of industrialised agriculture to such an
extent that the majority of the public if asked would answer that they are definitely against
keeping hens in cages. This attitude is somewhat modified when the same people in the food
store has the choice between the cheap cage produced eggs and the more expensive
alternative produced eggs, but still between 20 and 40% of the consumers are buying eggs
from non-cages hens.
It became a shock for some people when it became clear that also hens in non-caged
environments had welfare problems in terms of feather pecking and cannibalism, and further
that the immediate solution of the problem were through beak trimming. Some reacted by
stopping to eat egg and other invested in back yard hens trying to use other breeds of hens.
A major change in the condition for future production of table egg in the EU-countries is laid
down in the council directive 1999/74 which are setting minimum standards for the protection
of laying hens. The back ground is the European Convention for the Protection of Animal
kept for Farming Purposes which states that provision of housing, food, water and care should
be appropriate to the physiological and ethological needs of the animals. Furthermore it is
based on the opinion from the Scientific Veterinarian Committee which concluded that the
welfare conditions of hens kept in battery cages and in other systems of rearing are inadequate
and that certain of their needs cannot be met in such cages. On this background they laid
down three paragraphs describing three system with some minimum standards. They are the
1. Alternative systems
2. Un-enriched cage systems
3. Enriched cage systems
Re 1. Provisions applicable for alternative systems, which embrace all systems to keep
laying hens, except the cage system. The minimum standards laid down under this heading
apply from 1 January 2003 for all newly built or rebuilt production systems and from 1.
January 2007 for all alternative systems. There are minimum standards laid down for:
feeding troughs and drinking systems;
amount and size of nests;
form, capacity and placement of perches;
extent of littered area.
For systems allowing hens to move freely between different levels the following apply:
there shall not be more that four levels and the headroom between levels must be at least
feeding and drinking facilities must be distributed in such a way as to provide equal
access for all hens;
the levels must be so arranged as to prevent droppings falling on the level below.
If laying hens have access to open fields there are minimum standards on:
numbers and sizes of popholes giving access to the outer areas,
and these areas must be appropriate to the stocking density in order to prevent any
contamination and equipped with shelter from inclement weather and predators.
Re. 2 Rules on traditional cages, termed un-enriched cages
Provisions applicable for keeping hens in un-enriched cage system should from 1. January
2003 comply at least with the following:
at least 550 cm2 per hen of cage area and some detailed rules of hight;
rules on feeding troughs and drinking systems;
rules on construction and slope of the floor;
rules on claw-shortening devices.
Finally is given the statement that cages no further equipped is prohibited from 1. January
2012 and in addition such cages may not be built or brought into service for the first time after
1 January 2003.
Re. 3 Rules on enriched cages.
Provisions applicable for keeping hens in enriched cage system should from 1. January 2003
comply at least with the following:
At least 750 cm2 per hen of which 600 cm2 should be usable; the height of the cage other than
that above the usable area shall be at least 20 cm at every point and no cage shall have a total
area that is less than 2000 cm2
Litter such that pecking and scratching are possible.
Perches with 15 cm per bird
Feeding trough of 12 cm per hen.
At least two nipple drinkers or two cups must be within the reach of each hen.
The aisle between tiers of cages should have a width of 90 cm and the floor of the bottom
tier of cages should be at least 35 cm above the floor level of the building to facilitate
inspection, installation and depopulation.
The cages must be facilitated with claw-shortening devices.
Members States of the EU shall bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative
provisions to comply with the directive1999/74 not later than 1 January 2003.
The differentiation in egg and meat production, and some of the consequences
Soon after starting breeding programs for hens it became obvious that an efficient breeding
program for egg laying was in conflict with programs in which meat production also was
included. The first step in decisions on such breeding programs are which breeds should be
used? In producing white shelled eggs the Leghorn breeds were the popular breed to use also
because they already had a good laying capacity, but they were slow growing and rather poor
in breast meat proportion. As regards brown shelled eggs the situation was somewhat
different as all known breeds able to produce eggs with brown shell belongs to the group of
breeds known as medium or heavy. As interest for growing efficient stock cabable of laying
brown-shelled eggs became large in some countries, breeding programs for developing such
stock were initiated. The breeding goal to establish an efficient stock laying brown shelled
eggs was among others to decrease adult body size and therefor their ability to produce male
chicken worthwhile to use for meat production was decreasing as they succeeded, this is a
world wide and broad evaluation. In the beginning of 1950 there were in Denmark 60
approved breeding stocks and about 20% of these were distributed on medium heavy breeds
like Rode Island Red, Light Sussex and White Wyandotte and New Hampshire, while the
majority was Leghorn breeds kept for laying purpose. The purpose of including these medium
breeds was clearly to develop a kind of dual purpose stock, this development was running
parallel with most other countries in Europe, but information from USA where telling that
over there they had started to utililise and develop breeds with the aim of meat production.
Curiosity brought the first stock of these to Denmark in 1957 and offspring from these import
of White Plymouth Rock showed such an improvement in growth and breast meat proportion
that further development of the dual purpose breeds were stopped. From about 1960 the use of
male chickens from laying stocks as meat producers were more and more given up and the
practise that the hatcheries were sexing the newly hatched chickens and killing the male
chickens were introduced at that time.
Quality of eggs and its inheritance
The concept of quality of eggs comprises physical, chemical and pathogenic as direct
measurable traits. In addition there are sensorial and ethical concept of the eggs which often
are more descriptive, the last being considered as an imaginary quality. The measurable traits
are all determined to some extent by the inheritance, and they are often looked at as being
either external or internal quality.
The external Qualities.
Egg size. Apart from a high influence of age the inheritance has a very high influence that can
be seen in comparing various breed.
Shell strength are measured by a number of different ways among which can be mentioned %
cracked eggs, shell thickness, specific gravity and deformity of shell as the most important,
and all of them has a component of heritability varying from .2 to .4
Shell colour is differentiated in white shelled and brown shelled that is determined by a
polygenic variation and having a heritability of 0.5. Green/blue shell is determined by a
single gene that was original found in the Araucana breeds rarely used in commercial egg
production. In later years these gene has been introduced to some layer type breeds, which is
used in UK for special markets.
Shape of eggs varies among breeds and has a certain component of inheritance.
Dirty shells are indirectly under influence of the inheritance as hens with a poor inclination to
lay its egg at a nest, but just drop it outside a nest, has a tendency to lay dirty eggs. Nesting
behaviour variation has an inheritable component, and while not important in a cage
environment it becomes very important when hens are kept in free-range systems.
The internal quality
Yolk size or yolk proportion has recently been subject for a Ph.D. work by Camilla
Hartmannn in which she found that a selection response corresponding to a heritability of 0.3
to 0.4 and no unfavourable effects was observed in neither reproduction nor egg production.
Albumen height is often used as a quality parameter to indicate that the egg is old or has been
stored wrongly. At breakage the albumen of such egg has lost its characteristic gel structure.
A newly laid egg has en albumen height of 5-8 mm and this variation is highly heritable.
Eggs stored for 7 days or more reduces part of the albumen’s stability to form a gel and
therefore the height will be lowered to 50 to 75% of its original height even the storage
temperature has been correct.
Dry matter content of albumen varies in the vicinity of 10 to 13%, and this variation has no
influence on the albumen height. The protein composition of the albumen is fairly constant
Marianne Hammershøj (2000).
The yolk has a lipid content of about 30-33% and this again constitutes of glycerides (62-
65%) Phospolipid (32-33%) and a content of about 4% or 0.2-0.3 g total cholesterol per egg
(Rotenberg & Sørensen, Acta Agriculturæ Scandinavica 1978 Vol 28 pp255-261)
Regarding sensory quality the most frequently met abnormal cases is the ones in which a
fishy taint is found when open an egg. This abnormality may occur either by feeding hens by
fish oil or fishmeal in a quantity or quality that transfer the fishy taint to the yolk or in cases in
which birds are fed rapeseed or similar plants containing mustard oil. Some birds has a
genotype that not allow the liver to fully metabolise the mustard oil, hens having these
genotypes are primarily found in stocks that are laying brown shelled eggs.
The imaginary quality of eggs is primarily related to the production system in which the birds
have been kept. In the Nordic countries as in other Northern European Countries there has
been such a focus on the cage system by the electronic media’s that quiet a proportion of the
public refuses to consume eggs from hens that has been kept in cages if they are informed
The free range/organic production concept
The idea of keeping laying stock under this condition can be looked at from two angels:
1. The Consumer
2. The Farmer
Many consumers don’t like to think of eating eggs coming from hens sitting in cages with
little space. A substantial part of them has got ideas that hens should be free in the sense that
they should be able to move around and have a joyful life, because they have watching
horrible television broadcast showing have life could be for hens in cages. Few of them has a
deeper understanding on all the problematic, and they will not pay more for eggs if they are
declared to be produced under specified free range/organic condition. These people are
probably ready to bye eggs produced outside the control of anything, as they trust the super
market. A less part of the consumer has got a more convincingly attitude to the question, they
want through their attitude to signal, in refusing to buy cage produced eggs, that they do not
accept this production system. They are willing to pay a higher price for free range/organic
produced eggs. An even smaller group of consumers is the organic orientated people that
always buy organic food and not will dream of buying caged produced eggs.
Among the farmers, the traditional farmers has been focussing on using more and more
rational way in their production system in order to reduce the labour cost. During this process
they have gradually paid less attention to the concept of being in close contact with the
individual animal as such and left over the watch of the well being of the animals to various
electronic systems. For several of these farmers the poultry production has become an
industry more than a farm with living animal which means that they are more engaged in
making sure that the technique works than the animal has a good life. Other farmers have a
different codex for keeping animals in which the care for the animals is ranked higher in his
mind. A numbers of farmers have the attitude that they don't want to keep the animals in the
narrow conditions of cages and therefor produce eggs under other systems. The free
range/organic system is the ones creating the biggest distance to the cage system in many
aspects of which a major part is the amount of increased labour per hen. In Denmark the
labour cost is usually set to be 30 min per hen during a year in free range/organic systems
compared to about 5 min when the hen is placed in cages.
The risk of narrowing the genetic diversity in numbers of line and breeds
The domestic chicken is common all over the world and as for other domestic species a great
number of breeds have been reported. The third edition of the World Watch List from FAO
(2000) says there are 1049 avian species out of which 734 are chickens. Only about 200 of the
chicken breeds are reported to be not at risk and all others are more or less at risk. The
number of breeds is most likely underestimated, as the reporting is not complete from all parts
of the world. Counted in number of breeds all over the world there are plenty of chicken
genetic resources and the wild ancestor is also still to be found. However, also the number of
chicken breeds widely used is decreasing. What is most serious is that the number of breeding
companies (private, commercial or co-operative) has been decreasing very rapidly the last 20
years. A few international consortia including the remaining commercial breeding companies
are today marketing hybrids for egg and broiler production. For competitive and cost
efficiency reasons the number of breeds or lines kept within each company is limited. The
marketed hybrids are different combinations out of the same few selection lines. The exact
number of selection lines kept by the breeding companies is not really known.
There are roughly three groups of populations of which two of them have a more and more
narrow genetic variation and the distance between these two populations become larger and
larger. These two populations are:
The laying stock. Genetically developed to produce eggs in refined environment in
which the hen has to eat, drink and lay there egg and sleep. Further activity is unwanted
because it has energy cost which deteriorate the overall gross margin. Two different
populations of lines is used to produce respectively white shelled and brown shelled eggs, but
both of them has had the same breeding goal apart from the colour of the shell. We are left
with two groups of lines that both of them produce a bit more than 300 eggs during a year
using 2.1 kg feed per kg egg and having a mortality of less than 5% under the assumption
they are producing in a cage system and fed a high quality feed.
The Broiler stock has been selected for an early fast growth, which means that the age at
slaughter has been reduced to about 5 weeks from the initial 10 to 12 weeks and at the same
time reduced the feed efficiency corresponding to a feed consumption of 1.8 kg feed pr kg
gain. A major problem with these types of populations is that the selection for higher initial
growth rate has resulted in an extremely increased appetite. This appetite causes that the
grown up birds will continue to eat that much, that the birds become obese and therefor the
reproduction capacity becomes poor.
These two groups of lines are in hand of very few commercial companies in the world. Each
of the lines will be kept in a number of breeding bird, that not causes risk of genetic
narrowing due to inbreeding. The various lines within each of the groups has been exposed
for the same breeding goal over such a long times that it will be expected that the diversity
among lines has decreased and furthermore the fixation of genes will probably also be very
much the same.
The consequences of the strong concentration of the poultry breeding is not limiting genetic
variance per se, but a very much reduced diversity in the marketed chicken materials. This
means that there are very few alternatives, if they are still to be highly productive stocks,
available on the market. Those looking for alternative stocks have to go back to non-improved
domestic breeds or happen to be the lucky partner of somebody breeding for an alternative
chicken. Or, they do have to take the
The consequence of a situation as described above and also in the introduction becomes
apparent from a sector or national perspective. There has been a great specialisation of
production and the diversity in systems is reduced at least as much as the genetic diversity.
When alternative production systems are asked for the suitable animal materials are missing
and there is a negative load on the alternative right from the beginning. Regenerating the
diversity is a slower and more costly process than to destroy it. The society has gained from
the specialisation and also should take full responsibility for the restoration process.
Another component of risk emerging from the present concentration of poultry breeding is the
total dependency in many countries on imported breeding material. Not only the breeding
chickens have disappeared from the country but also the know-how and all the expertise
needed to run a breeding enterprise. In a word of open markets and free trading this fact might
not be considered a problem at all but a fortune – somebody who could do it better has taken
over and there is open access to the chickens on an open market. Nobody seems to bother
about what could happen if the present market stops being open for political reasons or from
any kind of emergency situation. In the very short term no country in Scandinavia would be
without chickens as there are parent lines to start with. There renewal can however not be
done as planned and some organised breeding has to be started from what’s available. There
has to our knowledge been no risk analyses done in this field.
The chance of finding potential genetic material in Nordic countries and Baltic/east
European countries. PS spørger i Rusland. BD spørger i Polen
The level of knowledge about the production potential of these Nordic breeds.
Do we have poultry production in all part of the Nordic countries and is it realistic to think of
free range poultry in all areas in which there are poultry.
In Northern Finland no commercial organic or free range production takes place. The
problem with the long daylength during the summer period in this part of the world seems to
be better handled by White Leghorn hens than hens laying brown shelled eggs when exposed
to natural light circadium.
Sustainabililty. Food for animals not in competition with human -
The reports from the different countries show a considerable variation according to the time
scale they have been beyond a national breeding program, but in most of the countries there
are a gene conservation program although they are organized in different ways.
The Swedish report
Commercial breeding with turkey, broiler and egg laying chickens does not exist in Sweden.
All the commercial animals for meat and egg production originate from imported parents
producing eggs to be hatched. Import of fertilized eggs for hatching and live chickens (day-
old) is possible but has very small volume.
Presently there are only two commercial hatcheries operating in the country. The access to
breeds or hybrids is therefore limited for large-scale producers to what these hatcheries are
providing. Lohman and HY-line are marketed today with one white and one brown hybrid
The egg production systems have been debated and discussed a lot. The laying hen kept in a
cage in large units has been a symbol for the adverse effects of large scale and modern
production system. The cages became forbidden from 1999 after a 10-year transition period.
From an animal welfare point of view improved housing systems for egg layers have been
intensely searched for since early 1990. During the transition period the traditional cages have
been allowed. The last permissions were issued during 2002 and from 2004 the cages should
be out. The number of egg layers has deropped from about 6 milj to the present 5 milj and
might continue dropping to a predicted number of 4 milj hens. It can only be assumed the
reduced number of animals has been caused by the ban on traditional cages.
Growing of broiler chickens and turkeys has very little been under public debate and the
consumption of white meat from chickens has increased rapidly as in most other countries.
Broiler meat has been discussed in connection with the presence of campylobacter in the meat
and the risk for human infections, but not from an animal welfare point of view.
The Norwedian report
The Norwedian gene bank for poultry was established in 1973 and the breeds were placed at
Hvam Adult Scole in Akershus County, this work were supported by the government.
The purposes with the Gen Bank were
- Ensure the active lines against emergency and diseases
- Keep breeds and lines that not are economic in production, but have special interest
- Donate breeding material for test at the teststation.
- Produce day-old chickens for research.
- Produce pedigree hatched chickens for hobby purpose
Lines and breeds that has an daily egg production of at least 35 g during a year in the test is
included in the following list
Active line of White Leghorn. Derived from an import from USA in 1957 and has been
closed ever since. Has been used as the mother line in the two-way cross Gjermundnes 31 that
in several tests has been ranked high due to a favourable feed efficiency. The pure line has a
good shell quality, but in that particular cross the shell quality was poor.
Active line of White Leghorn. Originated from an old population in Vestfold and is known to
have a general high heterosis effect in most combinations. The line has large eggs and poor
shell quality. Has been used as father line by Gjermundnes since 1976.
Active line of White Leghorn. Probably the oldiest line in Norway without import of genes
from other popultaions. Has been used as motherline in two-ways crosses and is characterised
by high feed efficiency partly due to a small body size.
Active line of White Leghorn. Derived from an import to Kalnes in 1977. This Line (Former
termed as Rokohøns 4) Has a good potential for laying and has been used as mother line in
the Nor- Brid 41 which were used in many years by 80% of the white shelled egg production
. Established from then Melsom line in 1972. The line has been used as Father line in Nor-
Brid 41 and is kown to productive, calm and with a good general heterosis effect in
Active line of unknown breed derived from Hissex in Sweden in 1981. Has been used as
mother line in Nor-Brid 87 used for production of brown shelled eggs in Norway. The line
starts early to lay and has a stable high egg production potential.
Active line of unknown breed derived from Hissex in Sweden in 1981. Has been used as
father line in Nor-Brid 87 used for production of brown shelled eggs in Norway. The line has
stable high egg production, but is later in starting the egg production.
Non-active white feathered mother line laying brown shelled eggs. Imported from Warren in
1982. The hen has a moderate laying capacity with large eggs. Part of the line has later been
selected as a motherline for broiler production.
Barred Plymouth Rock (Tv Pl R)
Pure bred calm hen that is laying eggs with tinted shell. Tranferred from Lien Landbruksskole
to the Gene bank in 1979. The breeds is a very popular among hobby breeders. The newly
hatched chickens is shoving their sex by the colour of the dawn.
Red Rhode Island (RIR)
The breed were transferred from Steinsland to the Gene bank in 1984 as other breeds of
brown shelled layers appeared that had a better laying capacity. The breed originated from an
import from Finland in 1973. The breed is a popular breed among hobby breeders and known
as calm bird that fit well in free range systems. It has a reasonable laying capacity but the
shell colour is to weak to market the eggs as brown shelled.
This material were transferred form Telemark Landbruksskole, Søve to the Gene Bank in
1986. The population originate from an import from Lohmann Tierzucht into Sweden in
1979. The line showed a high frequency of the B21 haplotype in the MHC system indicating
some resistance against Mareks Disease. The line has a good production potential and a good
shell quality, but the behaviour has been observed as aggressive.
The Danish report
In Denmark there was a ban against the cage system to laying hen right from the
beginning of the cage era in the 1950 s. The ban was abolished in 1979. As it was the case in
all other countries a large numbers of poultry breeders were in operation up the years of 1955-
1960, a number which decreased down to 4 in 1970. During the next 10 years the 3 of these
breeders did a hard work to compete with the large international breeding companies which
were at the Danish marked during most of the time. As the ban on cages existed, the egg
producers had the hens in large flocks either in floor systems with litter or in wire netting
system termed the Pennsylvanian system .
The fourth breeder went his own way as he developed a niche production in breeding birds
that was particulary designed to harch environment by means of a crossing program of White
Leghorn x New Hampshire that will later be refered to as the Hellevad Cross
Among the existing four breeders C. Christiansen, Skalborg has to be mentioned in particular.
He had a long career as poultry breeder and had already individual control with 3,000 hens
in the middle of the 1960 s . based on the floor system. They based the control of the laying
of the individual hen on the trap nest , and they did that 7 days a week in a 12 month period.
The myths tells that he always brought a small axe with him and hens he met in the laying
house which had just laid an egg outside the nest was immediately killed, thus he had
through 30-40 generations performed a most effective recording and a strong selection for
hens which were well-behaved as to laying behaviour and relation to other hens in the house.
He and his successor continued in the same way up to 1980 . The Skalborg hens which
actually was a cross of two lines (line 7 x line 1) became well known to be a high yielding,
calm and well feathered hens weighing a bit more than the competitors and they laid large
eggs. The Skalborg hen had to compete with two other Danish poultry breeders as well as the
large international breeding companies. Two others of the 4 breeders got special permission
to keep hens in individual cages and they imported genetic materials from some of the foreign
breeders which meant that their special ability to the floor system was soon left.
The Skalborg hen met her fate at the day the ban on cages to laying hens was abolished which
are easily seen from table 2.
Table 2 Comparison of the Danish Skalborg hen with various international breeds
carried out in a floor system (Neergård, 1978) and in a cage system
Test in Floor system in 1978 Test in cage system in 1982
Breeds Country Eggs in 365 Eggs in 365 Eggs in 365 Eggs in 365
days per placed days, hen day days per placed days, hen day
Shaver Canada 265 274 278 298
Babcock USA 259 264
Hisex Netherlands 264 267
Lohmann Germany 259 268 276 285
Dekalb USA 264 292
Skalborg Denmark 262 267 240 266
Denmark as most other countries run a Random Sample Test station for laying hens, in which
the genetic materials available on the marked were tested. Up to 1980 this test took place in a
pen based floor system with 30 hens per pen and 4 pen per breed. From 1981 the system was
changed to a 4-bird cage system and 128 bird per entrance..
From table 2 it is seen that the Skalborg hen competed reasonable with the large international
breeds when the test happened in a floor system. Later when changed to the cage system
Skalborg was the lost its competitiveness because the others produced better in cages and a
higher mortality was seen for the Skalborg hen. The last observations had been seen in other
comparisons already and it is most probable caused by the fact that the Skalborg hen was not
adapted to the cage system.(Sørensen,1997)
After the collaps of the 3 major breeding centre for laying hens the Broiler Breeding Center,
ASA Chick, in Billund tried to start a breeding with some of the lines from the 3 breeding
centers, but they gave up after a couple of years in 1982 and from then on the Hellevad Cross
was the only Danish bred chickens that were able to bye, but only in a very small scale. Thus
the majority of laying hens in Denmark has since 1980 been of forign origin and from various
hybrids among which should be mentioned Lohmann LSL as white shell layers and ISA
Brown as brown shell layers being the most prominent hybrids.
The Hellevad Cross is based on a New Hampshire line imported to Denmark in 1950 and a
White Leghorn obtained from the Skalborg Kontrolhønseri in 1980. The Hellevad Cross is
produced as a WL♂ x NH♀. The Basic breeding has been carried out in a floor system with a
trap nest system to record the individual hen. They have never used vaccination or other
phrophylactic treatments and until 10 years ago the hens was kept in a free range system.
Beak triming has never been performed
The selection programme are carried out on the basis of keeping about the double numbers of
females and males that has to be used as breeding birds. A simple selection system is
performed in which major trait selected for is: egg yield based on egg laid on nest, plumage
condition and persistency in laying, some family selection is used.
Each breed are organised in 14 units each with 28 breeding females and 3 breeding males that
all are full brothers. The pedigree is complete regarding the mother, but the fathers may be
one of three full brothers.
Danish Committee for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources was established
in 1985 with the purpose to "assist in the conservation of the genetic resources of Danish
farm livestock with a view to securing biological diversity, our cultural and historic
inheritance, and the traditional landscape".
In total 20 old breeds of Danish origin are on the list from the committee wanted to pay
special attention to. One of them belongs to the species Gallus Gallus and are the breed
termed Danish Landrace Fowl. In the description it is noticed that it has been known since the
iron age and characterised as "hardy and resistant to disease, a diligent food scavenger, rather
shy in nature, and predisposed to flying. The brown Landrace Fowl is the most common, but
other colours, including grey and black, are also found. A special short-legged variety is the
"Luttehøne" which actually is carrier of the Creeper gene that is letal in its homozygote form,
is found in some quantitives because they are of special interest for some hobby breeders. A
few decade ago the Danish Landrace Fowl was rare, but today the breed has become popular
amongst hobby breeders.
The Finnish report
In Finland is no breeding at the commercial level. All grandparent stocks for egg-layer and
broiler are imported. The main egg-layer hybrids are from Lohmann LSL, Hy-Line and
The conservation program of Finnish indigenous hen started in started 1998 with 54 farms. In
year 2001 there were 86 farms and they had in total 15 different lines or families. There are
two different types of farms, the majority of the farms keep the hens and increase the number
of hens just for own consumptions and sale of eggs and they do not sell chicks or hatching
eggs. Few farmers act as breeders selling chicks or hatching eggs.
All farmers have during this program committed themselves to keep chicks for four years.
They must do recording on performance of the chicks and their breeding success and has to
send an annual report to MTT. The data base for Finnish Land race is taken care of and
updated by MTT and farmers participating in the conservation program has an access to apply
EU subsidy for keeping the Finnish Landrace hen.
No special phenotypes for different lines or families are available
Overview of breed and lines in Nordic countries.
In this overview is tried to give an impression of which breeding material are available that
could be an alternative to the international hybrids in free range/organic production. This
means that just few of the many hobby breeds are mentioned as they are kept and bred mainly
for their special characteristics.
We have tried to present their production potential and special phenotypes that may or may
not be of advantages in the free range/organic production system.
All commercial animals are imported. There is no large scale breeding programme in the
country and since long ago the test stations for testing of chicken lines has been closed.
There is still one experimental line of chicken kept at SLU which has some interesting
features in relation to future egg production systems. This line, now called “Svensk hönan”
has a background from a large Nordic poultry project in the late 1970-ties with the purpose of
selecting for an efficient layer when fed Nordic feed resources. After 20 years of selection on
a low protein diet this line has shown some interesting features. It is not producing up to the
level of the commercial hybrids in conventional systems but it has been producing about the
same quantity in ecological systems and it has been especially noted for having less of
picking disorders and a better plumage.
Lines of old breeds are looked after under the programme for conservation of genetic
resources. There is a gene banking system for these lines and the breeders associated to the
gene bank are also recording and reporting about production, hatching and health of their
chickens. In table 3 below the statistics from the last year is presented.
Table 3. Old breeds under the programme for conservation of genetic resources in
Breeds Antal Antal Äggvikt Levande vikt,
hönor ägg/år hönor >1år
Blommehöna 841 155 61 2,38
Åsbohöna 999 149 47 1,40
Ölandshöna 227 130 58 2,09
Gotlandshöna 323 127 58 2,10
Orusthöna 228 141 47 1,36
Svarthöna 356 137 47 1,42
Hedemorahöna 1040 150 52 1,88
Öländsk dvärg 188 117 35 0,67
Gammalsv. dvärg 76 113 36 0,74
Table 4 The Norwedian gene bank for poultry established in 1973. Production
parameters to 52 week of age during 2000/01.
Line/breed Rate Egg Number of Kg egg Egg Body Mortality
of weight egg mass weight
lay g per 36
% Hen Placed Hen Placed henday week
day hen day hen g
Germundnes 1 72,9 57,0 163 152 9,32 8,70 41,6 1750 13,1
Gjermundnes 76,9 56,0 172 166 9,65 9,30 43,1 1640 5,2
Roko høns 1 82,4 57,4 185 179 10,60 10,24 47,3 1655 6,7
Nor-Brid 1 78,9 55,0 177 174 9,72 8,55 43,4 1889 3,5
Nor Brid 4 76,7 57,9 172 163 9,95 9,43 44,4 1735 10,3
Nor-Brid 7 81,3 56,5 182 173 10,28 9,76 45,9 2096 10,2
Nor-Brid 8 79,1 59,1 177 170 10,46 10,06 46,7 1966 7,5
Søve 1 65,6 58,2 147 137 8,56 7,97 38,2 1691 13,7
Kalnes 5 69,8 60,3 156 147 9,43 8,87 42,1 2412 11,7
Tv Pl R 70,6 50,2 158 156 7,93 7,81 35,4 2050 3,0
RIR 60,6 59,6 136 128 8,09 7,60 36,1 2058 6,0
Table 5. Preliminary results from the Finish Gene conservation programme
Farms AFE Rate of lay
FAMILY Hen Cocks no. in weeks %
ALHON ELI PUNAINEN ITÄSUOM. 146 48 9 20,8 50
HORNIOLAINEN 103 35 4 28 30
HÄMÄLÄINEN 34 3 2 80
IITTILÄINEN 30 6 1
ILMAJOKELAINEN 11 2 1 22 60
JALASJÄRVELÄINEN 17 4 1 60
JUSSILAN (LEPOLAN) KANTA 47 9 7 19 60
JÄMIJÄRVELÄINEN 11 4 1 50
KIURUVETINEN 88 29 7 23 70
LINDELL'IN KANA 17 3 1 23 40
LUUMÄKELÄINEN 25 3 1 21 30
OTHER FAMILIES 32 6 3 24 50
PIIKKIÖLÄINEN 362 57 16 22,8 50
SAVITAIPALEEN KANA 627 109 32 22,8 50
TYRNÄVÄLTÄ 7 2 2 20 80
Due to the popularity of the Danish Landrace Hen, among the hobby breeders, it has been
included in comparative test with other layer type breeds/Hybrids at three occasion. During
two Random Sample test at "Kontrolstationen for Høns", Favholm in 1974/75 and 1975/76
the Landrace Fowl were compare in a floor system with 80 hens in each entry. Compared
with the average of about 20 White Leghorn lines and Hybrids is shown below in Table 6.
20 years later in 1998 Danish Landrace Fowl participated in a short term test to the age of 37
weeks in an organic environment at Research Centre Foulum (DARCOF report nr 11/2001).
In this test they were compared with the two major hybrids in Denmark . A number of 120
Landrace female chickens and 500 from each of the other breeds were started as day old and
they were raised according to the rules of organic egg production, but in small flock of 24
birds per units. The production data obtained were as given in the buttom of Table 6
Table 6. Comparison of Danish Landrace Fowl with White Leghorn lines during two
random sample test at Favrholm. Report no 432 and no 447 from Statens
Husdyrbrugsforsøg, København, 1975 and 1976 and a test in Organic environment in
Breed Year No of No of Age at Feed Egg Daily Body Mortality
eggs in eggs in 50% convers size, eggmass, weight at
11 365 laying ion g g 60 weeks
month days, ratio
Landrace 1974 146 165 235 3,92 48,6 22,0 1,35 16,3
Landrace 1975 132 151 225 3,88 51,2 21,2 1,42 20,0
W. Legh 1974 237 262 167 2,93 57,8 41,5 2,15 8,8
W. Legh 1975 243 279 185 2,55 58,5 44,7 2,03 2,5
Landrace 1998 - 157 176 7,84 47,5 12,1 1,63 -
ISA 1998 - 318 138 2,67 63,1 47,1 2,15 -
LSL 1998 - 316 139 2,97 61,3 44,9 1,93 -
It is probably fair to conclude that the Danish Landrace Fowl is far behind the commercial
level regarding production of eggs, and will hardly be considered as alternativ breed in a
commercial egg production system.
Over times there has been the Hellevad Cross has entered different tests and comparisons. At
the Kontrolstationen for Hens at Favrholm they participated several times in 1970ies. These
test showed that the Hellevad cross at the floor system performed reasonable but were never
at the top. In recent year there has been some comparisons at organic farms as well as at the
Eco Cottage at Research Centre Foulum. In 2001/2002 they were compared at Farm no 2
with ISA Brown. With a number of about 3000 hens for each breeds the following results
Tabel 7. Farm comparison of Hellevad Cross and ISA Brown at Farm no. 2 during
Trait Hellevad Cross ISA Brown
Hen day, Rate of lay, % 78 85
Age at 50% lay, weeks 20 22
Mortality,% 8 14
Down classified eggs, % 6 3
Feather Cover 36 uger, * 17,2 14,0
Feather Cover 52 uger, * 15,9 13,6
* The Regnar Tauson scale in which score 20 is a complete plumage cover and score 5 is an
absolute missing plumage cover
Summary on breeds and lines
Across the Nordic countries a number of breeds seems to be stored or selected that may have
a potential for being used as laying stock in production systems alternative to the traditional
cages. Two of them has been used as breeding material in organic or non cage egg production
system. These two is the Swedish hen and the Hellevad cross. Both of them are two way
crosses that have been bred for special purpose during many years. The Swedish hen has been
genetic adapted to produce eggs on a low protein concentration in the diet and they have
proved to perform better than many high yielding hybrids that when fed on 13-14% protein
diet, but they are not particularly adapted to free range systems. The Hellevad cross has been
bred in large flocks in barns and in earlier times also as free range hens, and they have never
been protected by vaccination, but they have always been fed traditional feeds for laying hens.
They have been tested in various situations against high yielding hybrids and they lay less
eggs (5-10%) but they have almost always a better plumage and less cannibalism (feather
From the Norwegian Gene bank the lines used in the NorBrid hen is kept. This lines were
used in Norway as the commercial hybrid in cage system up to 2002 and primarily adapted to
the cage system. Tests of various hybrids in Norway indicates that the Norbrid hens behave
better on free range condition than some of the international commercial hybrids (see section
on Experiences from free range and organic production).
In addition to the three mentioned crosses that are available (Svensk hønan, Hellevad Cross
and Norbrid) there may be breeds or lines under the conservation program in Norway,
Sweden and Finland which are worth while to consider as potential as a line in a two-way
cross. From the Swedish gene conservation program the Blommehøna (Table 3) seems to be
an interesting gene resource as they have a comparatively high body weight and egg weight
and the highest egg production among the various breeds in the conservation program. In the
Norwegian Gene Bank (Table 4) there are, apart from the Norbrid lines, some lines which
may be of interest as a mating partner for a two way cross that will primarily be the Roko hen
and the Gjermundness 2. From the Finish Gene conservation programme which are rather
new (Table 5) the results is more uncertain. Thus there are 8 to 9 lines/breeds that is of
interest to know more about as a potential in a two-way crosses as a laying stock in non-caged
Experiences form free range and organic egg production
regarding: rearing, health, egg production, feeding
A comprehensive documentation of egg production in floor systems exists, as it was a part of
the program for the Swedish decision of the change from the traditional cage. This
documentation embraces only few examples of comparisons of different breeds/hybrids. In
cases in which various breeds/hybrids has been used in comparing different production
systems it has been observed that the different breeds/hybrids often demonstrated a Genotype
System interaction regarding behaviour or production parameters or both.
Elwinger and Tauson observed that brown feathered breeds were better than white feathered
on floor environment, but also that large variation among White feathered hybrids exist.
Comparisons and experiences from hens in organic systems are also described. In a report
Åsa Odelros has described the experiences obtained form the organic egg production (DNR
29-2978/00 Ekologisk äggproduction). She writes that many different breeds/hybrids has been
used and by asking the individual producers the producers declare that they are satisfied with
their choice. To day white hybrids dominate in the organic egg production in Sweden. Health
problems, cannibalism, feather pecking and parasite is still giving large problems in some
Elwinger et al. (2002) presents a comparison between Lohmann Selected Leghorn (LSL) and
the Swedish hen (SH) in which the protein quality and proportion is used as experimental
parameter. It was clear that both hybrids were under influence of the protein in diets, but the
SH hybrids was less influences of reduced quality and concentration of protein in diet. This
should be seen on a background that the two lines behind the SH hybrid has been selected for
better production fed on diet with low protein content. Similar results have been observed
form other research based on organic production and also from the use in the organic
Paul Csizuk (FaktaJordbruk, nr 7 1998 and Ekologiskt lantbruk, 7-8 nov 1995) compared
three breeds in a trial with a free choice among feed component. He found obvious difference
among the breeds in their choice of feed.
The research in organic egg production has been reported in two report in respectively 1996
(Økologisk ægproduction, Beretning nr 729 fra Statens Husdyrbrugsforsøg, eds Poul
Sørensen & Erik Steen Kristensen) og 2001 (Forskning og udvikling i økologisk
ægproduktion, ed Poul Sørensen).
The first of these reports summarise the knowledge that were available in 1995 on following
1. Organic principles, rules and legislation. By Thorkild Ambrosen
2. The Challenge in organic poultry production from a farmers perspective. By Kristian
3. Technical-economic results from four organic egg producers. By Ib Sillebak
4. Management of hens in organic systems – a practical approach. By Niels Otto
5. Feed to organic poultry production. Chr. Bønsdorff Petersen
6. Welfare of hens in organic systems. By Jørgen Kjær
7. Breeding For better hens to produce in organic systems. By Poul Sørensen
8. Parasitological problems in the organic egg production. By Anders Permin & Peter
9. Research and health research in organic egg production systems. By Jan Tind
This report (729. beretning) is in Danish and still available at Danish Institute of Agricultural
The ideas and thought derived from this report were gathered in a series of research that were
carried out in Denmark during the next 4 years. The major results from these efforts were
presented in the second report from 2001 having the following contents:
1. Status and perspectives for research and developing of organic eggproduction. By
2. Breeding, selection and comparison of different breeds. By Poul Sørensen & Jørgen
3. The Influence of rearing, density and light intensity on production and welfare in
laying hen – research and practical experiences. By Jørgen Kjær, Poul Sørensen &
Arne Bæk Jensen.
4. Roughage to laying hens. By Sanna Steenfeldt, Ricarda Engberg, Jørgen Kjær &
Niels Finn Johansen.
5. Disease and welfare in the organic egg production. Anders Permin & Magne Bisgaard
6. Practical farmprojects in organic egg production. Morten Priesholm, Hans Peter
Søeberg & Arne Bæk Jensen
Many of the results from the research is also found as publications in various forms and can
be obtained in its full length from the web page on the Organic Eprint having the address:
This first series of research supported by grants from Danish Research Centre for Organic
Farming (DARCOF) were followed by a new series of research during the years 2001 to
2005 the vision of which are given in “Forskningsnytt om økologisk landbruk i Norden, 5:16-
Norwedian research with research on different production system and breeds
Kathle, J. 1995. Forsøk med verpehøner i løsdriftsystemer. Sluttrapport. IHF, pp 14.
Forsøket var en sammenlikning av Lohman hvit og Nor-Brid 41 i bur og i aviariene
Marielund, TWF og Voletage. Forfatterens hovedkonklusjon var at det er forskjeller på
tilpasningen til løsdriftsystemer mellom hybridene. Resultatene indikerer at Lohman gikk,
fløy og hakket mer enn Nor-Brid 41.
Kathle, J. 1998 Genetiske forskjeller i hakkeatferd blant høner i løsdrift.
Husdyrforsøksmøtet 1998, p. 306.
Forsøket var en sammenlikning av Nor-Brid 1 og brunegghybriden ISA på gulv. ISA hadde
en kanibalisme på 57% mot 1% hos Nor-Brid 1. ISA viste også dårligere fjøring enn Nor-
Brid. Det ble også funnet signifikante forskjeller i hakkeadferd mellom de to typer.
Hetland, H. og Svihus, B. 2002. Produksjonsresultater for verpehøns i ulike
driftssystemer gitt fôr med og uten helt korn. Husdyrforsøksmøtet, p. 461.
Hybridene LSL, Shaver 2000, ISA hvit og Nor-Brid 41 testes på bursystemene Haho
(tradisjonelt), Big Dutchman (Aviplus), Victorson (8 høner) og Victorson (16 høner).
Norbrid hadde mindre redebruk enn de importerte hybrider.
Norsk Fjørfelag. Planer om uttesting av norske verpehønelinjer i økologisk
Ved Genbanken på Hvam videregående skole i Akershus er det planer om å oppføre
et økologisk hønsehus for testing av produksjonslinjene på genbanken under
økologisk driftform. NORSØK er med i samarbeidet.
CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTION FOR FURTHER
The poultry breeding is world wide concentrated in few and large breeding companies and
none of them are situated in Nordic countries. Regarding egg laying stock the hybrids offered
by these companies are primarily developed in order to produce in cage systems and although
they are high producing stock they has some short comings when kept in free range systems
in terms of inadequate behaviour, mislaying of eggs and sometimes high mortality.
The question of using cages for keeping hens has been a matter of much concern for many
people and an animal welfare approaches has lead to regulations in individual countries as
well as at the EEC level. In Sweden use of conventional cages was forbidden from 2002 and
the EEC has given rules which declare that it will be forbidden to use conventional cages in
any member state after 2012.
The breeding companies operating world wide has the attitude that Northern Europe is
a comparatively small part of their market share and they are therefore not willing to put a lot
of effort into a breeding programme focussing particularly on free range productivity of
laying hens. So far they have market hybrids they claim has a better adaptability to free range
condition, but they have not been particularly bred for this purpose, but is the results of trying
some cross combinations with lines they already had in their gene bank.
In the light of this world wide developing in breeding with poultry it could be worth
while to look if there should be gene materials hidden in the Nordic countries that has
qualities in terms of being better genetic adapted to free range production. The description of
what was found indicates that three two-way crosses found in respectively: Denmark, Sweden
and Norway seems to fulfil the requirement that they are either genetically adapted to free
range, produce on protein weak food and has a satisfying behaviour and finally has a
reasonable productivity. It is not clear if all of the three crosses are good enough on all four
criteria. In addition there are some breeds/strains under the gene conservation programme
that might be of interest in crosses as they seems to have some production potential on top of
being bred for adaptability for free range conditions.
To get a better understanding of the potential of Nordic breeding material as back
ground for laying hens in free range systems a higher level of knowledge it is needed in order
to recommend this breeding material. This knowledge can best be obtained in a comparison
under realistic condition of a full length production period. This comparison or test should as
a minimum consists of all three two-way crosses together with one of the commercial hybrids
available. If the test capacity allow it would be an idea to include crosses of some of the pure
breed from the gene conservation programmes.
Places for such test could be at Research Centre Foulum that has had an ECO Cottage
system with a capacity of 24 pens each housing 40 hens. It was recently decided at DIAS to
replace this system with a corresponding system that will be available at the beginning of
2006 for laying hens, this new system also placed in Foulum should be constructed on the
basis of the experience obtained. Other possibilities is in Lelystad in Netherlands where they
recently have constructed facilities for research with free range laying stock. There may be
other possibilities in Nordic countries that has appeared during the last year. The cost of such
a test will be about 1.2 mill. DKK at Research Centre Foulum of which 75% is the cost of the
practical test. The prices in Netherlands is about 70% higher for the same numbers of hens.
If such a test comes out with convincingly results, the next step will be to encourage
organisations to start up the work with creating a breeding organisation that will overtake the
breeding of the lines and also creating a multiplying farm that is large enough to supply the
farmer with sufficient numbers of “ready to lay bird” of ? (3000) a time. Such a new
organisation will meet strong competition from the established conventional breeding
companies, the strength of such a new organisations is that it has to based on the organic ideas
in order to attract the organic producing farmers and therefore has a market not only in the
Nordic countries but also elsewhere there are organic farmers. It is difficult to think of an
organisation that survive on breeding of birds for a table egg production just based on a
Nordic hen, but together with the organic need there might be a possibility in particular if the
hen will be good enough also to cover the marked of free range hens without no ideological