In many environments, broiler chickens and laying hens are raised in conditions that don’t support proper health, growth, and production.

Producers in the poultry industry try to resolve these issues by giving chickens antibiotics. However,  demand continues to grow for poultry raised without antibiotics while antibiotic resistance further develops. This leaves producers desperate to find different  ways to improve animal health and nutrition without the use of antibiotics.

Many producers are turning to probiotics which have been deeply studied as alternatives to traditional antibiotics. This article will provide a review of the most common probiotics used in chicken feed and dig deeper into the beneficial effects of probiotics on the health of your flock.

probiotics for poultry

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that offer several health benefits when consumed adequately. They interact with various receptors in the body to positively affect the individual’s health and well-being.

The body produces good and bad bacteria, and infections happen when the amount of bad bacteria exceeds the presence of good bacteria. Probiotics increase the presence of good bacteria, improving the body’s ability to fight infection and maintain a balance inside the gut through an improved immune response.

Probiotics must meet several qualifications, including existing when isolated from the body. Since they’re live organisms, they must survive digestion conditions to ensure the right mechanism of action with the proper receptors in the body. They also have to be safe for consumption and offer health benefits, such as improving digestive function or supporting the production of good bacteria.

Increased probiotic supplementation can lessen the risk of pathogen contamination resulting from abundant harmful microorganisms and pathogenic bacteria. Certain Probiotics produce antimicrobial peptides that equip chickens to fight infections.

For chickens, it’s common to see  the development of conditions caused by Campylobacter, ClostridiumSalmonella enteritidis, or Escherichia coli. These pathogens can transfer through the birds and eggs during the grow-out affecting your chickens’ growth, health, and production, and contaminating chicken products during processing.

Providing probiotics to your chickens can strengthen their ability to fight pathogenic bacteria and avoid pathogen contamination as modulation occurs inside the body.

This is considered competitive exclusion, a natural phenomenon where beneficial bacteria inhabit the gut and prevent the colonization of dangerous or damaging bacteria. Competitive exclusion is a key component of the mode of action of probiotics after consumption by the chickens.

Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics: What’s the difference?

Probiotics and prebiotics are similar in that they positively affect gut health and the gastrointestinal tract. The main difference between the two is that prebiotics are mostly substrates such as carbohydrates and related compounds with fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and mannanoligoasacchardes (MOS), while probiotics are live bacteria that can improve the intestinal balance.

Prebiotics contribute to the growth of beneficial bacteria during modulation in the gut while improving the balance of the microbiome (the collection of microbes lin the gastrointestinal tract).

The intestinal microbiota is a key component of the body’s digestive system that contributes to the body’s ability to break down food, regulate the immune system, and process key metabolic functions. Without a healthy gut microbiota (also called gut microflora), the body struggles to digest food properly.

On the other hand, prebiotics aren’t digested as they pass through the body. Bacteria ferment them after they pass through the colon, which aids in producing various fatty acids to support the growth of beneficial bacteria.

A synbiotic combines a prebiotic and a probiotic in a single component. Synbiotics increase the chance of probiotic survival, which helps lock in the benefits that probiotics provide for the user.

Using prebiotics with probiotics can set the stage for probiotics to perform their best.

What probiotics are used for poultry?

Several probiotics are commonly used in the poultry industry as alternatives to  growth promoters. The best probiotic supplementation for your flock will depend on several factors, such as your chicken’s age and any specific health concerns you want to address.

Below, you’ll find a review of several common probiotics given to poultry and how they can benefit your birds.


Bacillus based probiotics are  an effective antibiotic alternative due to its enhanced spore-forming abilities which ensures that they withstand high pelleting temperatures, low pH, bile salts, and other harsh gastric conditions Their secretion of antimicrobial peptides and substances has also been shown to reduce bacterial infections in poultry or reduce the negative effects of the infection in growth performance.

Probiotic Bacillus strains also produce a variety of digestive enzymes that enhance digestibility and nutrient absorption. Bacillus based probiotics are known to improve body weight gain, increase the intestinal villus height, reduce the feed conversion ratio, and improve egg production and egg weight.


You’ll find Bifidobacterium inside the large intestines of most mammals, in addition to yogurts, buttermilk, and cured meats. It is critical in increasing white blood cell production to fight infections. Bifidobacterium improves the health of the chickens by boosting gut physiology. Consuming Bifidobacterium improves chickens’ feed conversion by assisting key digestive functions and boosting their nutrient absorption. It can also stimulate the production of immune cells and reduce the potential for harmful bacteria to colonize. 

Enterococcus faecium

Enterococcus faecium is an endogenous intestinal isolate, a member of the lactic acid bacteria that participates in the fermenting process of cheeses and yogurts. When administered as a probiotic, it can improve gut health and enhance the immune system. Administering Enterococcus faecium  to chickens, can increase the intestinal area for nutrient absorption,  improve weight gain and feed conversion. 


Lactococcus is a derivative of lactic acid bacteria known for improving gut health and immunity in poultry. Lactococcus can contribute to better egg production in poultry and lower the possibility of infections like necrotic enteritis. This comes as a result of Lactococcus reducing pathogen colonization through the production of inhibitory substances.


Like other probiotics, Lactobacillus improves immunity and reduces colonization of various pathogenic bacteria (like E. coliSalmonella enteritidis and Clostridium) through competitive exclusion and the production of bacteriostatic like compounds such as lactic acid which decrease the pH of the gut. By improving the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut, Lactobacillus can lessen the risk of future digestive disorders.

L. casei is a notable strainof Lactobacillus known for its ability to elevate the presence of short-chain fatty acids in the kidneys. Consuming appropriate amounts of L. casei reduces the risk of chronic kidney disease as these receptors interact. Lactobacillus acidophilus is an especially common probiotic found in fermented foods and supplements. Lactobacillus acidophilus is naturally found inside various parts of the body, but it can also be taken as a dietary supplement. Lactobacillus acidophilus can reduce the mortality of boilers challenged with pathogenic challenges.


Probiotic Pediococcus strains such as Pediococcus acidilactici is a gram positive bacteria that can easily grow in different ranges of pH, temperatures, and can inhabit the digestive tract of the animal. Pediococci are known to inhibit the growth of enteric pathogens through the secretion of antimicrobial peptides or bacteriocins such as pediocins. 

How are probiotics implemented in poultry feed?

Probiotics are usually included in chicken feed as direct-fed microbials (DFMs). These feed additives can contain one or multiple types of live microorganisms and probiotic strains. Chickens can consume DFMs through mash, pellets, crumble feed or water.You can incorporate DFMs into chicken feed throughout various stages of production.

You’ll find that your chickens lack proper probiotics inclusionwhen you notice runny feces and an unhealthy gut. You can often tell your chickens lack the proper nutrients when their production is down or when they appear lethargic. Probiotic bacteria can improve your chickens’ immune response and cut down on mortality cause by pathogenic bacteria.

6 benefits of using probiotics in poultry feed

Including probiotics in poultry feed offers several advantages. Here are six reasons many in the poultry industry choose to use probiotics in their avian feed.

benefits of probiotics in poultry feed

Reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics

The demand for poultry raised without antibiotics continues to increase. Antibiotics are becoming less effective over time as antibiotic resistance develops.

Probiotics improve the body’s ability to fight infection and disease without requiring the use of antibiotics. Probiotic intervention in early life can decrease the production of antibiotic-resistant genes. Using probiotics as a regular part of your chickens’ diet allows you to raise antibiotic free chickens while taking proactive steps to improve their health and production.

Healthier chickens

Chickens on probiotics often experience better gut and digestive tract health as they grow to maintain a better balance of beneficial microflora. As they break down their feed through a more efficient digestive process, they’ll produce a greater amount of meat and eggs. The result is more animal productivity and profitability from your flock, thanks to the increase in weight gain and improved feed conversion ratio.

Your chickens will also develop a more balanced level of healthy bacteria, making them more resistant to harmful bacteria. They’ll also become less likely to develop inflammation in their small intestine, which can negatively impact animal health, growth and productive performance.

Chickens on probiotics, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, reflect greater reproductive health. Their hatchability rates and egg quality will rise, and your flock will grow faster than it would otherwise.

Because probiotics decrease the risk of pathogen contamination, the risk of contracting foodborne illnesses through animal food products lessens. You can feel confident about the food safety of your poultry.

Better growth and production performance

Probiotic intake will naturally boost your chickens’ weight gain. As their digestive system becomes more effective, they’ll better convert their feed to available nutrients and gain weight more efficiently. They’ll become less likely to contract diseases that could slow their growth and decrease production.

Probiotics also improve the health of the small intestine, which can boost chickens’ nutrient absorption and aid in their growth. Chickens on probiotics are more likely to maintain their weight, enabling them to reach higher levels of production.

These positive effects of probiotics as alternatives to growth promoters mean you’ll enjoy more meat or eggs from each chicken without using antibiotics.

Improved flock immunity

Flocks regularly consuming probiotics can develop a stronger resistance to potential illnesses and diseases. Probiotics can enhance immune parameters  such as antibody titers, through the production of serum and natural intestinal antibodies that could prepare and protect the bird for upcoming infections. There is also a strong relationship between the modulation of the immune system and the enhancement of growth performance through the use of probiotics.

Greater profitability

As your chickens consume feed that contain probiotics, they’ll produce more eggs, develop fewer illnesses, and grow more efficiently. These factors contribute to greater income potential.

When your chickens can better absorb nutrients from their food, they’ll experience better conversion rates that aid in their ability to grow more muscle mass while consuming less feed.

Your chickens won’t be as susceptible to diseases that could decrease their growth and poultry production. They’ll present stronger gut health and competitive exclusion of pathogens, decreasing the risk of mortality that could develop from infections and diseases.

Discover how eMax Feed Technologies can improve the health and output of your poultry operation

Many poultry farmers opt to replace antibiotics with probiotics in their chickens’ diets. While some producers provide their chickens with the same sources of probiotics that humans consume, your best bet to ensure a proper mechanism of action is to supply your chickens with a probiotic designed for avian consumption and feed intake.

Engrain’s eMax Feed Technologies are designed with various probiotics strains to improve growth performance and poultry production. Unlike expensive supplements, Engrain’s low-cost products allow your chickens to experience the beneficial effects of probiotics without stretching your budget.