A meta-analysis was conducted to evaluate the effect of the carotenoid canthaxanthin on production performance in layer hens. The data set contained 576 performance measurements from 34 trials. The trials were all conducted according to a similar experimental protocol from 1997 to 2012. The age of the animals ranged from 21 to 65 weeks. The experimental diets were predominantly wheat/SBM based, fed in mash form ad libitum. Depending on the trial and the treatment group considered, canthaxanthin supplementation was in the range of 0 to 8 mg/kg of feed.
Using a linear mixed model regression applied to all 34 trials simultaneously, significant dose-dependent increases were found in egg yolk mass (+0.53% per ppm of canthaxanthin inclusion in the feed, P < 0.001), in egg mass (+0.47% per ppm, P = 0.0132), egg weight (+0.17% per ppm, P = 0.046), and in feed intake (+0.32% per ppm, P = 0.0054). A numerical increase was found in egg production (+0.28%, P = 0.14). The FCR decreased numerically (−0.24% per ppm, P = 0.36). The deposition of canthaxanthin in the egg yolk was 2.25 ppm per ppm of canthaxanthin in the feed (P < 0.001). It is concluded that in addition to egg yolk pigmentation, antioxidant effect, enhanced reproduction, and immune-modulation, canthaxanthin can significantly increase egg mass, thereby enhancing the productivity of the flock. Mechanisms relating to carotenoid metabolism and functions in avian species are a new research area that will require further investigation to explain the observed effects.