It’s no secret that people across the globe eat a lot of chicken and eggs. Demand for poultry products has grown exponentially in recent decades; in fact, production reached 130 million tons of chicken meat in 2020 to become the most consumed animal meat in the world.

Poultry farmers play an important role in their livestock’s well-being, as they’re responsible for feeding their birds a diet that keeps their intestinal microbiota (that is, the bacteria responsible for maintaining critical functions like nutrition, metabolism, and immunity) healthy and fully operational.

In short, poultry gut health can directly impact nutrient absorption and the output and growth of a bird (and the eggs it produces). Feed components — including carbohydrates, fiber, protein, energy,  micronutrients, and other additives are all important considerations when choosing poultry feed for your flock.

Are you ready to ensure your hens are happy and healthy (and your business is thriving)? This page will discuss poultry gut health and tips for improving it in your flock.

chicken gut health

Signs of poor gut health in poultry

Maintaining gut health in a commercial chicken farm (which can also house turkeys and other poultry) is arguably the most important factor when preventing disease pathogenesis and ensuring poultry production.

In particular, enteric diseases — like coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis — have become a major issue in commercial broiler chickens due to strict regulations on using in-feed antibiotics and the consumer’s demand for antibiotic free poultry products.

It’s important to monitor and track feed, performance, and disease data to promote animal health within your flock (especially broilers and layers). Note the following diseases and bacteria if and when they arise:

  • Coccidiosis
  • Necrotic enteritis
  • Salmonella
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter
  • Mycotoxins
  • Avian influenza
  • E. coli
  • Eimeria

If you’re starting with a healthy flock or new chicks, great! Monitor gut health, nutrient intake, and growth performance, and watch for signs and symptoms of larger problems. These include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Sores or lesions
  • Coughing, wheezing, or sneezing
  • Soft or misshapen eggs
  • Lack of energy or appetite
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Mucosal discharge

Fortunately, keeping proper notes and addressing concerns can help maintain homeostasis in the digestive tract (including the gizzard, small intestine, and ceca).

What factors have the biggest impact on poultry gut health?

Establishing a healthy microbiome in young chicks can set them up for a lifetime of gut health and a strong immune system. It’s important to focus on the following factors that can impact bacterial and microbial immune responses:

  • Food. Poultry feed rich , prebiotics, probiotics, short-chain fatty acids, amino acids, and other essential nutrients is the basis of intestinal health in turkeys, broiler chickens, layers, and other poultry. For instance, mucin-secreting cells produce and protect the mucus layer in poultry and rapidly mature as a response to environmental factors, intestinal microbiota, and dietary factors. This intestinal mucus secretion allows nutrients to pass through but blocks invasive pathogens. Without proper feed intake, these cells can’t create an intestinal barrier.
  • Water. Water is an essential nutrient for poultry. Following an appropriate water treatment and disinfection program during the grow out can promote bird health, welfare and overall performance.  Clean water and sanitizing the drinking system are key to preventing disease and minimizing exposure to pathogenic (or harmful) bacteria (you’ll also want to test your water regularly to ensure it’s safe to drink). Keep in mind that chickens need more water as they age; for instance, multiply 5.28 gallons times a broiler chicken’s weight to predict how much water the chicken will consume daily.
  • Stress. Stress related to heat or travel (or other factors) can be detrimental to livestock. Leave birds alone during the hottest parts of the day, provide adequate ventilation during travel, and consider screening for parasites or other issues if your flock shows signs of appetite or energy loss (or other unusual behaviors).
  • Illnesses and/or diseases spread from other birds. When it comes to poultry, disease and illness can spread rapidly. It’s important to keep living areas clean and disinfected and avoid the presence of rodents or deceased birds. Avian influenza, or “bird flu,” is a common respiratory disease that can spread from bird to bird or from contaminated food or water to a flock. Commercial farm owners should have a biosecurity plan for handling diseases and illnesses.
  • Air quality. Air contaminants can lead to poor air quality in a poultry house, including solid particles, microorganisms (e.g., pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and viruses), and gasses (e.g., ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide). Dust particles of dried droppings, feather and skin scales, and some feed can also become airborne, so proper ventilation and cleaning practices are essential.
  • Movement. For commercial farms, studies have shown that 0.8 to 1.0 sq ft per broiler bird were appropriate to maintain optimal performance parameters. However, local legislations and requirements must be followed to ensure that ventilation as well as feeder and drinker space is appropriate for the stocking density.

4 tips to improve poultry gut health

The following tips can help ensure your poultry production is strong and your birds maintain a healthy bacterial and microbial immune response.

Incorporate probiotics

You can use probiotics (or “good” bacteria, like Lactobacillus and Bacillus (Engrain’s probiotics)) to improve poultry health. These beneficial microbes can maintain controlled and non-infectious levels of pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella, and C. perfringens. More and more poultry industry professionals include probiotics in their animal nutrition.

eMax Feed Technologies contain a combination of different  probiotic strains (rather than the typical single-organism probiotic used by other brands) to create a balanced dietary product without the need of other expensive additives or antibiotics.

Properly manage the bird’s diet throughout its life

It’s important to adjust a bird’s diet throughout its life to ensure proper nutrition. Feeding a younger chicken a calcium-rich layer diet can produce improper bone formation, kidney failure, and death.

Similarly, giving a broiler chicken diet to a laying hen can result in poor eggshell quality (broiler chickens need a lot of protein). Consider your flock before choosing the right feed combination for their dietary needs.

Chicken feed must include nutrients for protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals (especially in hotter months). Natural additives like essential oils, organic acids, prebiotics, probiotics, and phytogenic compounds can positively impact the gastrointestinal health, the immune system, nutrient digestibility, and growth performance of the chicken.

Monitor bird health frequently

Maintaining bird health is often impacted by how quickly you can detect illnesses and adjust bird diets to keep them healthy. That’s why data collection is so important to your business’s success.

Fortunately, automated tracking systems are getting better at monitoring and assessing farmed poultry. These systems can record data like flock density, heat stress, feeding and drinking behaviors, and other activity.

Maintain sanitary housing conditions

Sanitary housing conditions play an important role in maintaining a flock’s health. It’s important to remove sick birds quickly, limit the amount of exposure to factors outside their housing (like people), and ensure birds have access to clean drinking water and food.

Using “shower in and shower out” protocols as part of a biosecurity program can help prevent pathogenic bacteria and disease from spreading from humans to livestock. Inspect flocks daily and use sound pest and rodent control methods as well.

How good poultry gut health can benefit your poultry operation

Healthier birds grow bigger, have greater egg output, cost you less money over time to mitigate sickness, and are happier. Focusing on intestinal health means less focus on addressing preventable issues like avian influenza, coccidiosis, and Salmonella.

Fortunately, feed additives like probiotics can help keep your hens happy and thriving. Proper supplementation is vital for your flock’s success and is well within reach.

Discover the benefits of eMax Feed Technologies for poultry

There’s a growing demand for antibiotic-free poultry nutrition to aid gut health and ensure weight gain and nutrient absorption. Improve and maintain your flock’s gut microbiota and gastrointestinal tract with a feed solution that works for  poultry at all stages.

Engrain’s eMax Feed Technologies can offer the solution you seek. eMax uses affordable ingredients to lower the cost of in-house feed production while still providing the right beneficial bacteria for healthy chickens, improved weight gain, more and bigger eggs, and better overall production.

With energy representing the highest dietary cost of feeding poultry, eMAX aids in diet reformulation to lessen the need for high inclusion levels of fat supplements. Metabolizable energy requirements can be lowered in broiler and layer diets without affecting growth performance, significantly reducing feed costs.

Proper nutrition formulation plays an important role in your flock’s gut health. Let us help set you (and your business) up for success.