The link between intestinal health and sustainable broiler production is the subject of a new white paper authored by poultry experts from the Monogastric Science Research Centre at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
The white paper, Intestinal Integrity – a critical parameter in sustainable broiler production, is underpinned by an extensive literature review, led by SRUC’s Dr Marwa Hussein, and substantiates the importance of closely monitoring and managing poultry intestinal health.
“The broiler industry is under pressure to meet sustainability challenges while increasing access to safe and affordable poultry meat,” said SRUC’s Professor Jos Houdijk, co-author of the white paper.
“A heightened focus on intestinal health and integrity will prove very valuable in addressing these challenges and achieving progress.
“There have been big sustainability gains made thanks to genetic improvements, but maintaining this advantage is sensitive to gut health.
“A reduction in the Intestinal Integrity (I2) score for a current flock of broilers effectively cancels out years, if not decades of genetic selection.”
The new white paper was commissioned to examine factors which impact broiler intestinal health, and to assess the value of Elanco’s Health Tracking System (HTSi) and I² index as a robust and practical means of achieving incremental improvements in this area.
“The paper outlines the negative impact key intestinal diseases – such as coccidiosis, gizzard erosion, necrotic enteritis, and proventriculitis – can have on broiler performance through increased feed conversion ratio (FCR), morbidity and mortality,” said Houdijk.
“It also highlights the significant value Elanco’s HTSi database and I² index offers, for monitoring and managing flock intestinal health, bird performance as well as welfare, profitability and sustainability.”
Explaining how the index works, Elanco’s poultry technical consultant, Louise Ashworth, said: “The I² index is a unique, weighted index that gives flocks a score of between 0 and 100, based on 23 health conditions which are known to negatively impact intestinal health.
“For many farms, a score of 90 or below is an indication that poor intestinal health is having a significant impact on FCR and bird performance, and poorer I² scores are linked to a rise in antibiotic usage as well as an increase in the amount of feed, water and space required per kilo of poultry meat produced.”
Prof Houdijk said the white paper clearly demonstrates that the underlying conditions within the I² index are linked to reduced feed efficiency and an increase in the carbon footprint of poultry production.
“The consequences of this are an increased resource input for the expected output, more manure being produced, and birds taking longer to fatten – all of which contribute to the carbon footprint of poultry production.
“This white paper provides a valuable insight into why flock intestinal health matters and how the I² index can help producers improve the sustainability of poultry production.”