Chelated Trace Minerals Improve Your Layer and Breeder Performance.

Published on: September 22, 2021
Author: Biochem Team
Time: 7 min read

Trace minerals are essential components of layer and breeder diets. Even though they are only needed in quantitatively small amounts, their functions in the organism cannot be compensated by other dietary components. In modern, high-performing layer and breeder genetics, traditionally used inorganic trace mineral sources (like sulfates) cannot always adequately meet the animal’s needs. This is due to the antagonistic effects. Therefore, it is highly recommended to use organic trace mineral sources, like chelates, because they offer higher bioavailability. Chelated trace minerals are a special form of bonding between a trace mineral and an organic molecule. These are typically single amino acids like glycine or amino acids from hydrolyzed soy protein. The higher bioavailability of chelates enables an adequate supply of trace minerals to the animal and results in less excretion of unabsorbed trace minerals through the feces.

Key functions of trace minerals in layers and breeders.

Trace minerals, like zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu) and iron (Fe), are essential for many production parameters and animal well-being in poultry production. These minerals are part of a variety of enzymes involved in the immune system, wound healing, egg production, reproduction, as well as integrity of the skin and skeletal system. As components of superoxide dismutase and catalase, they play a key role in the antioxidative system that keeps the animal healthy and prevents oxidative cell damageespecially under stressful conditions. Zn is a cofactor for the enzyme carbonic anhydrase that contributes to the fixation of calcium carbonate in the eggshell. Mn is important for the mechanical properties and ultrastructure of the eggshell. The formation and integrity of bones, cartilage and connective tissues is highly dependent on an adequate supply of Zn, Mn and Cu. Zn is important for the synthesis of collagen (structural protein of bone and cartilage) as well as of keratin (structural protein of foot pads, skin, beak and feathers). Mn plays an important role for chondroitin sulfate formation, a structural component of bone cartilage. Cu catalyzes the crosslinking of elastin and collagen during the egg building process as a cofactor in the corresponding enzyme system. Consequently, a Cu deficiency can lead to eggshell deformities. Fe is a constituent of hemoglobin and myoglobin. It is essential for proper oxygen transport and storage, protein metabolism and energy supply, which makes it important in the young chick’s development.

4 important advantages of chelates in modern layer and breeder production.

1) Promotes egg production and eggshell stability.

Several studies have shown that using chelates in combination with inorganic trace mineral sources or as partial/full replacements is beneficial to egg production and eggshell quality. These two parameters are essential for the economic success of a layer farmespecially as laying rate and eggshell quality decrease with increasing age of the hen. Good eggshell stability is equally important in chicken breeding as it is crucial for healthy embryo development, especially during the last phase of incubation.

In two recent field trials, a premix of glycine chelates (Zn, Mn, Cu) (E.C.O.Trace®) was fed in combination with an inorganic source in a commercial layer diet. A comparison of egg production per housed hen after 55 weeks as well as around peak production (weeks 25-27) showed a higher rate of production after adding glycine chelates to the diet (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Positive effect on egg production after adding glycine chelatesFigure 1: Positive effect on egg production after adding glycine chelates (E.C.O.Trace®) to the diet, compared to the previous production cycle with only inorganic trace minerals in the diet (field trial, n ~ 53,000 per group) (Biochem, 2019).

Feeding glycine chelates to older laying hens (74 ± 2 weeks) slightly improved eggshell quality already after 2 weeks as demonstrated by improved eggshell strength and thickness (Figure 2). This rapidly visible effect can be explained by the high requirements of older laying hens for highly available trace minerals.

Figure 2: Improved eggshell strength and thickness

Figure 2: Improved eggshell strength [kg force] (left) and eggshell thickness [mm] (right) of eggs from laying hens fed a diet supplemented with glycine chelates (E.C.O.Trace®) after just 2 weeks (field trial, n = 50,000 per group) (Biochem, 2021a).

2) Supports overall health status and increases longevity.

A very good general health status plays a key role in achieving the best possible performance from your animals. Chelates have been shown to support the overall health status of layers and breeders. For example, the birds can profit from higher concentrations of immune cells (e.g., leukocytes) in the blood serum along with an improved antioxidative status. The data in Table 1 shows superior broiler foot pad health when glycine chelates (E.C.O.Trace®) are used in combination with inorganic trace minerals. It is also well known that birds fed with chelates are typically characterized by higher bone mineralization and an overall improved appearance, with better feathering, etc.

Table 1: Field trial scoring results of foot pad dermatitis after a 6-week broiler fattening periodTable 1: Field trial scoring results of foot pad dermatitis after a 6-week broiler fattening period (n = 100) using inorganic trace minerals only or a combination of inorganic trace minerals with glycine chelates (E.C.O.Trace®) (Biochem, 2021b).

Various studies have indicated that chelates have a positive impact on longevity and can reduce mortality in the flock. These findings were confirmed by new in-house field trial data. In the field trial described above (Biochem, 2019), mortality decreased from 3.7% (inorganic) to 2.4% (inorganic + E.C.O.Trace®) during weeks 19-55. Laying hens fed with E.C.O.Trace® could also be kept in the house 8 weeks longer than usual.

3) Improves fertility and hatchability.

The production of fertile eggs is the key to profitability in chicken breeding. Numerous studies have shown the advantages of feeding chelated Zn, Mn, Cu and Fe when it comes to breeder fertility.  This is demonstrated, for example, by higher fertility rates and an increase in the number of fertile eggs. Breeder roosters showed enhanced serum testosterone levels and a higher spermatogonia count in testicles after feeding with chelated Zn. This was accompanied by improvements in sperm quality (motility, viability, morphology, concentration) and increased ejaculate volume. After fertile egg production, the hatchability of the eggs is the next key step to generating a high number of chicks from the breeder flock. The literature clearly shows that chelated trace minerals can improve the hatchability of fertile eggs and help make chicken breeding more successful.

4) Enhances chick quality.

A modern broiler chick spends 50% of its life in an embryonic state. Therefore, it is important to ensure that adequate nutrients are available to the developing embryo. The physiological status of the chick at hatching is greatly influenced by the nutrition of the breeder hen. Replacing or combining inorganic with organic sources of Zn, Mn, Cu and Fe in the breeder’s diet provides more trace minerals to the egg yolk. This effectively supports the chick’s start in life with an improved humoral immune response, protection from oxidative damage, and optimal gastrointestinal development. Feeding chelates also has a positive effect on embryo live weight, mortality, bone mineralization, and bone stability (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Positive effects on chick quality after feeding highly bioavailable trace minerals in breedersFigure 3: Positive effects on chick quality after feeding highly bioavailable trace minerals in breeders’ diet.


Supplying trace minerals is a crucial factor in feeding layers and breeders. Using organic sources, like E.C.O.Trace® glycine chelates, helps ensure an optimal diet. This can also minimize trace mineral excretion via the feces. Adding chelates to the diet has a positive effect on egg production and shell stability, longevity and mortality, fertility, hatchability, and chick quality. Taken together, these factors can make your poultry production more successful and eco-friendlier.

Biochem is backed by nearly three decades of experience working with chelated trace minerals. This makes us a reliable and safe partner for your needs in trace mineral feeding. Please contact a Biochem expert for details or visit our website to learn more about E.C.O.Trace® glycine chelates and our complete product portfolio.

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