What is the Best Probiotic for My Poultry?

Published on: February 22, 2023
Author: Biochem Team
Time: 7 min read

It is said that we have 10 times more bacterial cells on and in us-our microbiota-than the number of cells in our bodies. Ten times! Trillions of bacterial microorganisms! Yet they make up only 1-3% of our body weight. This underscores the power of these mighty microbes. Moreover, much of this microbial biomass resides in the gut. Although the number of bacteria varies from species to species, one truth remains: the majority of an animal’s microbiota lives in the intestinal tract.

More than 900 species of bacteria inhabit the gut! Moreover, this internal microbiota has an important function in an animal. This can include digestion of food, breakdown of toxins, modulation of the immune system, exclusion of pathogens, and support of gut health.

The microbiota is not a static entity. It is influenced by several factors, both internal (such as age and genetics) and external (such as environment, diet, and stressors). Furthermore, an imbalanced microbiota can have significant effects on an animal, such as increased susceptibility to disease, poor growth, and decreased productivity. The good news is that we can positively influence and balance the gut microbiota for the benefit of the animal through the use of probiotics.

What are probiotics?

Literally translated as “for life”, a probiotic is a live microorganism that is believed to have health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. Bacteria and other microorganisms are often thought to be harmful, but many are beneficial.

How do probiotics work?

Probiotics have a variety of effects on the body. Different probiotics work in different ways. Depending on the type of microorganism and the application, several benefits are expected from probiotic supplementation. For example, maintenance of a healthy intestinal microbial community; modulation of immune activity; production of beneficial substances; improved digestion; support of intestinal health; and reduction and prevention of colonization by potential pathogens, to name a few.

These functions are achieved by several mechanisms. Competition for attachment sites and nutrients by probiotics reduces their availability for pathogenic microbes. Some specific substances produced by probiotics can inhibit pathogens and keep the number of harmful bacteria low. Immunomodulation and improvement of intestinal barrier function are other important functions of probiotics. Simply put, probiotics help maintain a healthy balance in the gut to promote proper health, performance, and defense against intestinal disorders.

Which probiotics are used in animals?

A variety of microbial species have been used as probiotics in animals, including Bacillus, Enterococcus, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and yeast strains belonging to Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In general, there are three major classifications: spore-forming bacteria, such as Bacillus, lactic acid-producing bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, and live yeasts. Commercially available products may contain one or more different probiotic species, depending on the end use and desired outcome.

However, some specific probiotics have the best of both worlds. For example, Bacillus coagulans DSM 32016 combines the benefits of spore-forming and lactic acid-producing bacteria. As such, B. coagulans DSM 32016 uses the different mechanisms of action to modulate the microbiota for the benefit of the animal. In addition, the spore-forming B. coagulans DSM 32016 is heat stable and an excellent candidate for pelleted feeds.

What factors can affect a chicken’s microbiota?

In chickens, there are several factors that can influence the composition of the gut microbiota, including age, breed, and sex of the bird. However, the elements that may have the greatest influence on the microbiota in chickens are feed source, feed processing, and environment. The basal diet used in poultry production (soy-free vs. soy-based, pelleted vs. mash) can alter the microbiota and result in significant production gains.

Environmental factors such as ambient temperature, litter quality and maternal interaction are likely to play a role in the development of the gut microbiota. Normally, the hatching process exposes chicks to microbes from the surface of the eggshell. This initial contact influences future immunity and gut health, ultimately directing the development of the gut-associated immune system. However, commercial hatcheries go to great lengths to minimize bacterial exposure. Although this practice reduces exposure to harmful bacteria, it also reduces exposure to beneficial microbes.

In some regions, litter is reused between broiler flocks. Although this can be another source of beneficial microbes, this practice often exposes birds to pathogenic bacteria such as Clostridium perfringens. In addition, environmental differences between conventional and pasture-raised poultry may also have a differential influence on gut microbiota.

How can probiotics help my chickens?

Probiotics are commonly fed to poultry and have been shown to consistently improve performance. They have also been shown to have positive effects on gut morphology, microbial populations, nutrient absorption, gut barrier function and immune response, and antioxidant capacity. The measure of how well probiotic supplementation is working on a poultry farm is often measured by feed intake, body weight gain, and feed conversion ratio. Improvements in bird health and welfare are measured by reduced incidence of morbidity and mortality during certain critical phases of production, such as nutritional stress (e.g., diet change) and health stress (e.g., animal density).

The chicken’s intestinal tract plays a significant role in the success of health and growth during the production phase, and the microbial communities in the gut are essential for host nutrition and peak performance. Probiotics play an important role in this.

Supplementing chickens with probiotics improved gut barrier function and morphology. Probiotic feeding has also been shown to increase the absorptive surface area of the small intestine, thereby improving nutrient absorption and performance. Probiotics modulate the intestinal immune system and can help protect against common intestinal pathogens such as Salmonella, Clostridium, E. coli, and other harmful bacteria. They also improve gut integrity and barrier function in challenged birds.

Some suggest that poultry-especially broilers-may be sensitive to temperature-related environmental challenges, possibly because of the increased metabolic activity of modern poultry breeds. Dietary probiotic supplementation has been shown to be beneficial in broilers under heat stress by improving gut morphology and barrier function, resulting in improved meat quality. In laying hens, probiotic supplementation can reduce the negative effects of heat on egg production rate, average daily feed intake and egg weight.

In chick hatcheries, probiotic supplementation can be beneficial by compensating for the lack of contact with adult chickens that would normally establish a gut microbiota—early administration of probiotics can improve gut microbial profiles and provide a first line of protection against pathogenic bacterial overgrowth. Probiotics fed to laying hens have resulted in improved feed efficiency, reflected in significant improvements in egg weight and shell quality, as well as reduced rates of damaged eggs.

In general, probiotic supplementation improves meat quality in production broilers. This has been attributed to improved gut health and increased nutrient digestion and absorption due to improved nutrient availability. Supplementation of free-range and pasture-raised flock diets with probiotics has the potential to not only improve the production and carcass quality of poultry and poultry products, but also to reduce the environmental impact of poultry production. Overall, probiotic supplementation can improve bird health and welfare and result in reduced production costs and environmental impact.

When should I give my chicken probiotics?

Probiotics have the best health and performance results when fed throughout the entire rearing or production period. In several instances, a probiotic is required. Supplement day-old chicks from a hatchery with probiotics as early as possible. Birds that have been treated with an antibiotic would benefit from probiotic supplementation. Birds should be supplemented with probiotics during times of stress such as changes in temperature, environment, feed, and water.

How can I select the best probiotic for my chickens?

There are many strains of probiotic bacteria available and, as with other feed ingredients, it is important to select the right product for your birds needs. There is no simple answer to this question, as it is unique to each farm and situation. In addition, there are microbe-specific differences that affect the selection of an appropriate probiotic depending on the intended use. For example, Bacillus species are known for their heat stability, digestive enzyme production and improved feed conversion, while lactic acid-producing bacteria quickly colonize the gut of young animals.

However, it is also important to select the right subspecies of microbes. For example, not all Bacillus strains have beneficial effects. Careful selection and screening of different strains is the key to a successful solution! Biochem has over 30 years of experience with probiotics, and we draw on this extensive knowledge to help you select the right probiotic for your needs. Contact one of our experts to learn more about the probiotic solutions we offer or visit our website at www.biochem.net.

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