Carotenoids in the diet of the laying hen are incorporated into the egg yolk and subsequently into the liver and other tissues or the chicken embryo. Since these pigments are known to provide a range of health benefits to a variety of animals, it is of interest to know whether the effects of maternally derived carotenoids are strictly limited to the embryonic period or if they persist in the progeny after hatching. The aim of this study is to compare the effectiveness of pre-hatch (from the hen's diet) with that of post-hatch (from the progeny's diet) supplementation with carotenoids on the carotenoid status of the chick during the first 4 weeks of post-hatch life. Hens were fed a control diet or a diet supplemented with a carotenoid-rich extract of alfalfa. Eggs front the supplemented hens contained up to 22 times more carotenoids than the controls. The concentration of carotenoids in the livers of chicks hatching from the enriched eggs was initially 29 times greater than in the control chicks. Hepatic carotenoid concentrations in chicks from enriched eggs maintained post-hatch on the control diet were sustained at higher values compared with chicks from control eggs that were fed post-hatch on the carotenoid-supplemented diet, for at least the first 7 days. However, by 14 days, the latter group had overtaken the former in terms of liver carotenoid levels, Thus. under these conditions, maternal effects predominate for at least the first week after hatching, whereas from 2 weeks onwards, the progeny's diet becomes the main determinant of its carotenoid status. Since the antioxidant and immunostimulatory roles of carotenoids are likely to be especially important during the immediate post-hatch period, maternal dietary intake of carotenoids may have important ramifications for the viability of the offspring.,(c) 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.