Maintaining gut health without antibiotics

An article published in Poultry World discusses some key aspects of maintaining gut health without antibiotic use. Reducing antibiotic use has been on the industry radar for many years and now it is here. While probiotics, prebiotics, essential oils and organic acids have been identified as successful alternative strategies, it is important to understand the bird’s gut microbiota and their requirements throughout the life of the bird to promote gut health and utilize the products being used.

What is gut health?

Gut health encompass the ability to defend the body against pathogens, digestion of feed, and the absorption of those digested nutrients – it is a key factor determining the bird health and performance. Optimal development of the gut tissues, the gut immune system, and the development of a beneficial gut microbiota are critical steps to gut health. Gut health relies of the development and maintenance of a balanced microbiota.

Gut microbiota

The gut microbiota is a complex community of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa residing along the intestinal tract. The majority of colonization of the gut occurs immediately after hatch with micro-organisms entering the bird from the environment. First two weeks after hatch, the gut faces rapid expansion depending on brooding conditions, feed and water presence in the gut, and pre-existing favorable gut microbiota. An important development that must occur during post hatch gut development is the rapid growth of the villi. The function of villi is to increase the amount of surface area available for absorption of nutrients. Therefor, the failure of the villi to develop correctly will result in increased risk of nutrient malabsorption and bacterial imbalance.

Gut microbiota changes and matures as the bird ages and is responsible for protection against pathogens, development and maturation of the immune system, and promotion of correct development, and function of the gut tissues. The changes and maturity rate of the gut microbiota is affected by physiological changes occurring in the bird, changes in the environment, and changes in diet.

Feed and water quality for gut health

Some of the factors influencing gut health are development of the gut during brooding period, feed quality, water quality, management practices, and biosecurity. Feed and water quality plays major roles in gut health. Quality of feed pellets and fines in feed can have a negative impact on gizzard function and subsequent gut health. Feed is ground in the gizzard and mixed with acid and enzymes in preparation for digestion in the small intestine. When the feed particles are too small the gizzard is unable to adequately mix the feed with acid and enzymes before passing through into the small intestine. Improper mixing can increase the viscosity of the gut contents which increases the risk of diseases such as necrotic enteritis.

Water can be a source of pathogens, emphasizing the importance of having an effective water sanitation strategy on farm. Improper water sanitization can affect both bird health and cause potential damage to equipment. Water pH and mineral should also be monitored to discourage growth of bacteria like E. coli.

Picking the right product

While there are many products available to promote gut health, knowing the correct product can be difficult. There are products that provide beneficial bacteria, promote development of gut tissues, aid in digestion, and inhibit pathogens. Understanding what health issue is needed to be addressed vital in ensuring the product chosen will give the desired outcome. Often these products are referred to as ‘alternatives to antibiotics’ however, they should e considered as ‘alternative strategies’ as they are used more as preventative measures.

When deciding to use alternative strategies consider the significant points in the chicken’s life; development, transition and maintenance.

  • Development: setting up the gut for the life of the bird
  • Transition: prevent reduction in nutrient absorption and overgrowth of less favorable bacteria
  • Maintenance: ensure gut is supported to conserve homeostasis

Understanding the factors that can impact the gut and the interactions between the gut and bird performance will allow for best results on farm.

Please check the full article for more information.