There is undoubtedly a link between nutrition, gut health and overall bird health, all of which impact on production. Here, Poultry Business explores the topic with vet Rosie Booth, who recently joined the Elanco poultry team as a technical consultant. This article first appeared in the Feed & Nutrition supplement, published in April 2021.
Rosie, how did you end up specialising in poultry health and nutrition, and what is it about poultry you enjoy?
After qualifying as a vet, I spent 13 years working at a pharmaceutical company across both the ruminant and poultry teams. I found I was drawn to poultry over time because there’s more chance to get to know the customers, which means more opportunity to make a difference to people and the birds.
Following that role, I worked at a nutrition company for a couple of years, before joining Elanco in December 2020.
There’s some contention regarding how related veterinary expertise and nutritional expertise is, to what extent do you see a crossover between the two?
That’s an interesting question. In the UK, I think there’s a tendency for vets and nutritionists to see themselves as separate, respecting each other’s professional fields but working collaboratively to support their clients. However, I’ve learnt from colleagues abroad that this is not always the case. For example, in Spain most nutritionists are vets, so there’s an integrated approach to farm animal health and nutrition, which applies to all species.
In the UK, I think there’s better understanding and collaboration between poultry vets and nutritionists than in other sectors. This is partly because the birds are so close to reaching their genetic potential, that the influence of diet and health is very closely intertwined.
Do you think this is the reason why pharmaceutical companies are stepping into the nutrition arena?
It is certainly a factor. Elanco has an increasing number of products that influence nutrition, particularly in the poultry sector. HemicellTM, an energy saving enzyme, is purely nutritional, whereas the anticoccidials within the portfolio promote Intestinal Integrity, which plays a major part in growth and production.
But it’s not just about products. The overlap between management of coccidia and nutritional health is vital, they’re completely integrated and animal health experts, nutritionists, integrators and producers must focus on optimising both. Elanco’s health tracker system, HTSi, is an established benchmarking system that can support management decisions to achieve optimal production.
How does HTSi support the industry?
As a bird health surveillance programme, representative samples of birds are post-mortemed according to a schedule which is set up with the integrator.
The post-mortem checks are extensive, taking into account external and internal factors.
Looking at the carcass, they include measures of bird welfare, such as recording of scratches or dermatitis. They also cover leg health, recording any cases of femoral head necrosis or tibial dyschondroplasia.
Internally, birds are checked from top to bottom, looking for gizzard erosion, signs of litter eating, lesions in the gut associated with coccidia, intestinal tone, presence of watery contents and excess mucus.
For all intestinal checks, we apply a weighting and use a formula to generate an Intestinal Integrity score, known as I2. This is shared with integrators so they can understand how farms compare to the industry average, and is used to identify regional differences and whether seasonal fluctuations are occurring to the extent that’s expected.
The results can be used to identify issues and to get people talking about what might be going on. For example, if evidence of litter eating is recorded, there are several possible causes, so it pays to get the vet, nutritionist, producer and Elanco health adviser involved, as different people will be able to provide different insights. It could be a problem with the feed, such as sub-optimal pellet size, or something as simple as the feed pans being at the incorrect height which is restricting birds’ access to feed.
Thinking about the link between bird gut health and nutrition, what would you like to see in the future to facilitate continued improvements?
I think science-based initiatives and tools will continue to have their place in enabling improved Intestinal Integrity and general health in broilers. It’s important with any new product that there is a clear theoretical basis for why something works, plus thorough trials to provide evidence of the benefits on a commercial scale.
Historically, nutritional products haven’t always had this level of research and development behind them, which makes it difficult for producers to decide which approach will be most effective. This is where animal health companies have something unique to offer in the nutritional space. We can offer nutritional products that have the level of evidence behind them which is on par with medicine developments, and this enables increased levels of confidence that it will be a genuine solution.