Scientific background/state of the art
Livestock farming is one of the main culprits of global pollution . It impacts on the occupation of land, its erosion and above all the use of natural resources, such as the water required to cultivate crops needed to sustain the animal feeding sector.
Poultry represents the least impacting farmed animal for the environment, with an input of 0.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide compared to the 1.8 gigatons emitted by cattle breeding . Furthermore, poultry meat represents a relatively cheap protein source compared to other farming systems, it has a high nutritional value and it is free from religious restrictions .
Alternative farming systems (organic, free-range) require birds presenting high adaptability, resilience and that can grow in a low-input farming system, consequently biodiversity is a key aspect. FAO stated that 55% of all native poultry breeds are found in Europe and the Caucasus regions . In Italy, 22 breeds have been included in the Indigenous Poultry Register .
The sustainable use of local breeds in extensive systems represents an alternative practice to conventional farming . Native breeds perform well in these low-input systems with better animal welfare and meat quality. The products obtained are officially recognized as traditional and usually sold as whole carcasses . These properties contribute to the importance of valorizing local breeds and developing alternative farming systems with sustainability and animal welfare as a key aspect.
The aim of the project will be to update previous bibliography on the topic of sustainability and low input poultry farming systems, focusing on reducing the use of soybean meal and identify new and innovative ingredients such as protein peas, fava beans, insects and others to be included in poultry feed.
The second aim will be to protect biodiversity, improving and expanding low-input and free-range farming systems in which these breeds thrive and present optimal adaptability thanks to their intrinsic resistance and resilience.
One of the main factors to focus on will be animal welfare; since local breeds presents longer (150 days) farming cycles it will be necessary to also guarantee adequate housing and management with environmental enrichments, which may allow the expression of their natural behaviours.
The chosen breed for the trial is the Bianca di Saluzzo, a Piedmont slow-growing dual-purpose breed, part of “Slow Food” production chain (project partner).
- Materials and methods
A total of 144 male chicks of Bianca di Saluzzo will be allotted in 18 pens with a dimension of 2.5X1.5 m and with an outdoor area of the same dimension.
The birds will be divided into 3 experimental treatments (6 replicate/treatment):
[C] Control: standard diet with conventional ingredients and soybean meal as the main protein source.
[S] Sustainable diet: specifically formulated diet with the complete substitution of soybean meal with alternative protein ingredients (faba bean, peas, corn gluten meals).
[D] Sustainable diet + dried larvae: S diet enriched with dried black soldier fly larvae (BSFL), provided daily as the 5% of the expected daily feed intake every day at the same time since the beginning of the trial until the end (180 days of age). The larvae will be reared on a controlled and safe substrate (partner project Entomo) to avoid cross contamination and carry over of mycotoxins and heavy metals.
In vivo evaluations:
Body weight and feed consumption will be recorded every 21 days to calculate: average daily gain, daily feed intake, and feed conversion ratio.
Leg and feather scores 
Tonic immobility and fecal corticosterone (ELISA) 
Avoidance test 
Video recordings for behavioral analysis 
Hematological traits and serum protein and lipids
Slaughtering performance and organ histomorphology (gut, liver, bursa of Fabricius, spleen)
Cecal content microbiota (16-s rRNA, PCR) 
Meat quality 
- Expected results
As previous research shows , native breeds present high adaptability and can give good yields also in a low-input environment. The expected results could be the positive effect of a free-range farming system on behaviour, welfare, and meat quality of the birds. Moreover, the chance of being able to replace soybean meal with more sustainable ingredients in the feed, it will be an interesting result.
Finally, insects represent part of the natural diet of poultry and could therefore be integrated in poultry diets; the expected results are the feasibility of BSFL inclusion in slow-growing local breeds diets and its positive effects on reducing feed consumption and yields improvement.
- Existing contacts with foreign Institutions (if available) for the abroad period
This PhD program is co-funded by the EU-PRIMA project “SUSTAvianFEED”, which includes partners from Spain (coordinator), Tunisia and Turkey.
The abroad period will be carried out in Spain, visiting the partner Entomo (Murcia, Spain) which will also provide the dried larvae for the experimental trial.
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The sustainability of intensive farming system is considered low, and the situation will worsen every year. The main phenomena related to intensive farming are deforestation, greenhouse gasses emissions, excessive consumption and pollution of land and water . Another side effect of this process is the reduction of genetic variability and the consequent vulnerability of animals to environmental stress . Poultry farming has a better environmental impact than other animal production chains thanks to the high efficiency in converting feed into meat or egg. The shorter production cycle and the strong genetic selection carried out to increase production performance represent an advantage over ruminant or swine farming. This is particularly evident in the poultry meat production, in fact, modern broilers reach slaughtering weights in short cycles of about 40 days with a high percentage of meat yield . Unfortunately, in addition to all the benefits listed above these high-performance strains (HPS) show welfare and health issues, skeletal imbalances, metabolic disorders, and muscle abnormalities, which affect the appearance of the meat, nutritional traits, and acceptance by consumers [4, 5]. These are some of the main reasons why new sustainable and alternative farming systems need to be identified. However, poultry meat and egg production rely on these HPSs presenting major animal health and welfare concerns . As a result, there is a growing demand in developed countries for poultry meat and eggs from welfare-friendly farming systems . Alternative poultry production is more expensive than intensive, but supports biodiversity, animal welfare, local economies and the multifunctionality of farms, providing eggs and meat to which a growing part of consumers attributes high ethical value, quality and taste . Alternative systems (organic, biodynamics, free-range) require birds adapted to less controlled environment, high foraging aptitude, active immune response, and thermo-tolerance. The response of chickens to alternative systems and to different climatic conditions have not been sufficiently investigated and only few commercial breeds are available for these rearing systems, HPS, unlike Local Breeds (LBs), are highly unsuited to this purpose . Nowadays, the preservation of poultry biodiversity is a key objective in all developed countries . The possibility of improving LBs originates from the balance between the possible benefits (good health and welfare, resistance and resilience to heath stress, lower dietary requirements, reduced veterinary cares) and other unfavourable aspects (low performance, low meat yield) . Accordingly, an essential step is the improvement of production efficiency in LBs. Crossbreeding is the main tool used in poultry, which normally involves a cross between HPS and LBs, with the aim of combining the production capacity of the former with the latter adaptability to natural environment. Cross breeding also maximizes the expression of heterosis and normally improves fitness characteristics . Moreover, since the current HPS are specialized in either meat or egg production and egg production requires only females, the male of egg-type strain, due to their slow-growth rate, are killed at 1 day-old. Ethical reasons exist against this practice and the use of dual-purpose breeds could be a solution to this issue: the males and the females of local breeds could be farmed for meat and eggs, respectively. An additional reason to safeguard LBs derives from their ability to produce meat and eggs in alternative systems, with low-input diets and with outdoor run that produce meat and eggs with higher welfare standards . These aspects meet the attitude of consumer in developed countries where people can make an opinionated decision about their meal taking in considerations animal welfare, sustainability, nutritional, sensory, and ethical factors. It is obvious that, in most countries where poverty and hunger is widespread, HPS still represents a good opportunity to provide quite cheap high value food [14, 15]. Worldwide, conventional farming systems account for 67% of poultry meat production and 50% of eggs; an increase in local poultry farming is therefore feasible if supported by a productive and economic perspective . The conservation of native breeds is also an important component of poultry biodiversity. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) stated that 55% of all local poultry breeds are found in Europe and the Caucasus regions . In Italy 22 breeds have been included in the Indigenous Poultry Register and most of them are included in the FAO Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS) database 
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