Poor broiler gut health can have significant implications on bird health, welfare and performance as well as profitability. Here, Hannah Elliott, monogastric technical manager at Lallemand Animal Nutrition, summarises what producers can do to maximise gut health at farm level.
There are several tools out there which can help producers identify, manage and prevent gut health problems. This is fundamental to keeping enteric diseases such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli at bay.
Maintaining a healthy gut structure and microbiota helps to maximise nutrient utilisation, absorption and also ensures there is a strong barrier of defence for disease. This is not only critical for bird health and welfare, but also imperative in maximising profits.
Identifying gut issues
Poor gut health can be caused and exacerbated by several factors, including biosecurity, hygiene, water quality or the birds’ environment. Identifying poor gut health is the first step in making changes to improve bird performance.
“A good way to measure gut health is to score droppings and litter. Droppings should be well-formed and consistent in colour. Signs of a gut health issue are blood spots, runny or frothy consistency or unusual colouration.
“Observing bird behaviour is also key to spotting poor gut health. Look at whether they are eating and drinking properly, if they seem sluggish, or lie oddly,” says Elliott.
Once you have identified that there is a gut health problem, understanding why this is and where the issue is coming from is the next step.
“Causal factors are not often easy to pinpoint, so working with your vet and undertaking a post-mortem can be the only definitive way to establish what the problem is. In some cases, however, the characteristics of a particular bacterial infection will mean it is very obvious,” she explains.
While vets are visiting, it may also be useful to get them to take swabs to find out whether there is a specific intestinal infection and if the pathogen is present in the environment.
Once the source of a gut health problem is identified, there are a number of steps that producers can take in collaboration with their vet and nutritionist to help tackle the problem.
“It’s always worthwhile taking water samples and checking it’s quality, even if you’re following a well-established water hygiene programme. Units with a borehole should be a particular priority.”
Administering probiotic bacteria via the drinking lines can help depending on the problem. This can help build the birds immunity and natural defence against the different strains of problematic diseases, reducing the chance of a problem.
Another option is to consider an in-feed solution, to support health and performance. There are specific feed additives, such as an encapsulated probiotic yeast that can prove highly beneficial for certain pathogenic challenges and overall gut health management.
“Some products offer extra benefits that others don’t, and vice versa. For example, the bacteria strain Pediococcus acidilactici CNCM I-4622, known commercially as Bactocell, has been documented to have a beneficial effect on vaccine uptake and subsequent immune response,” she says.
“Research has also shown beneficial bioequivalent performance and feed conversion ratio in birds fed lower energy diets with Bactocell, compared to those on standard energy diets without it, by utilising dietary fractions which are indigestible for the bird.
“Getting the most out of our diets should be a priority given the high price of feed,” says Elliott.
As well as looking at the internal environment of the bird, it is important to ensure the external environment is as healthy as possible.
“Surrounding them with positive bacteria will help reduce external challenges and give them a positive microbial environment to thrive in,” says Elliott.
“Using a bacterial solution, such as Lalfilm PRO, which is a highly concentrated mix of live Bacillus spp. and lactic acid bacteria, can help to create a protective biofilm throughout animal housing.
“By producing a positive biofilm, farmers can help combat any negative bacteria which could compromise the bird gut. The more beneficial bacteria in the environment, the better chance the bird has of being healthy and performing well,” she advises.
Re-emphasise the basics
Getting the basics right is very important and therefore Elliott recommends that you work with your vet and nutritionist to ensure all day-to-day management is being done properly, before looking into the more complex solutions.
“It sounds simple but regularly walking the birds, paying close attention and consistent record keeping is the basis of good poultry keeping. Noticing visible signs such as any frothy or bloody droppings, whether birds move or sound different, or whether the birds are spread unevenly, is crucial in optimising health and welfare,” she explains.
Producers need to be proactive when looking for signs that could indicate a gut health problem so that they can be identified and rectified as soon as possible, before they impact performance.