Marigold flower extract (MFE), a natural source of xanthophylls, was added to the diets of hens at different concentrations (0, 150, 250, and 350 mg/kg of diet) to determine the effects of MFE on hen performance, physical characteristics of egg quality, and carotenoid content of the egg yolk of hens housed in enriched cages. Additionally, the highest dose of MFE (350 mg/kg) was tested under commercial poultry conditions and compared with a feed mixture with added synthetic carotenoids and a control diet without synthetic carotenoids. The highest hen-day egg production (P = 0.005) and egg mass production (P = 0.010) was found in hens fed a diet supplemented with MFE at 150 mg/kg. The performance characteristics, however, were not influenced by MFE under commercial conditions. When the dose of MFE was increased, increased values were observed for DSM Yolk Colour Fan (P < 0.001), redness (P < 0.001), yellowness (P < 0.001), ratio of redness and yellowness (P < 0.001), and decreased for lightness (P = 0.036). In the commercial study, the synthetic carotenoids decreased the value of yellowness (P < 0.001) compared with the control group. The lutein and zeaxanthin content in yolk increased by approximately 11.5 and 5.9 mg/kg dry matter, respectively, after the MFE addition of 350 mg/kg. Supplementation with synthetic carotenoids significantly (P < 0.001) decreased the α-tocopherol content in egg yolk. In conclusion, MFE is a suitable natural alternative for increasing the xanthophyll contents in eggs compared with the commercially used synthetic carotenoids.
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