Technical advice: Strengthening intestinal integrity

Good intestinal integrity means energy is used more efficiently for growth

In a world where the demand for poultry meat is constantly increasing, the conversation around maintaining good bird health is paramount. Optimising the intestinal integrity of poultry flocks through the use of a comprehensive index score plays a key role in fostering optimum animal health as a part of a holistic, sustainable approach. Intestinal integrity refers to the optimal functioning of a bird’s intestinal tract and its ability to perform the metabolic functions of digestion, secretion, absorption, and transportation of nutrients. The benefits of maintaining intestinal integrity are essentially two-fold: enabling better conversion of nutrients to energy and growth and wasting less energy on maintenance and repair. As such, intestinal integrity can be considered the primary driver of broiler performance. Impacts and threats to intestinal integrity can be broadly split into four main categories:

• bacterial enteritis / microflora imbalance

• viral challenges

• non-infectious factors (management, quality of feed)

• coccidiosis

Coccidiosis, in particular, is a major trigger for loss of intestinal integrity and in 2019 just over 37% of birds were affected by some form of coccidiosis. Coccidiosis has the potential to not only cause loss of productivity and deteriorated animal health, but also to have a huge impact on the poultry industry in terms of economic costs, with the global economic losses from coccidiosis estimated to be £2.3 billion per year.

As Tom Jeffers, an expert in coccidiosis told the European Poultry Conference in Norway in 2014: “It is likely the most costly disease threat to global poultry production and prevention of coccidiosis is essential in order to maintain intestinal integrity and the efficient absorption of nutrients in the chicken.”

Prevention of coccidiosis is therefore essential to protect intestinal health and ensure efficient absorption of nutrients in the chicken. With such risks at stake, Elanco Animal Health’s global surveillance system, the Health Tracking System (HTSi), a globally recognised benchmarking tool, has been used successfully for many years to show where peak challenge occurs and to outline the best preventative programme intended to give optimum protection to the intestinal integrity of birds.

This has led to the creation of the Intestinal Integrity Index – a unique combined weighted score of 23 intestinal lesion scores (including coccidia lesions) to give a composite score 0-100. The HTSi system has recently undergone a series of data-driven enhancements to further support poultry sustainability and enable even better understanding of flock health.

For poultry industry leaders who seek to continuously improve their business, HTSi is a data management platform that enables better understanding of flock health to drive timely data-based decisions and robust benchmarking, leading to improved performance and profitability.

In economic terms, a company producing 100 million broilers per year could achieve an income boost of £87,000 by utilising the HTSi system to improve their intestinal integrity index by 1 point. The gradual decline of intestinal integrity over the years appears to have improved towards the end of 2019 and the positive impact on gut health is evident in the data. It should be recognised that maintaining a stable programme all year round is essential to optimise intestinal integrity and performance.

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