Benefits of probiotics in overall health of poultry

Some of the improved kienyeji chicken breeds in KALRO, Kakamega. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

In the last decade or so, both the meat and egg consumer markets have undergone significant changes, resulting in increased expectations for safe and antibiotic-free production. Continuous investment over the past years in products that can potentially replace the long tradition of antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) has enabled the creation of probiotics, which serve two purposes: improving gut health and reducing antimicrobial resistance.

But what is a probiotic? Many people have described what a probiotic means in the animal farming system. However, in 2001, the WHO (World Health Organisation) decided to provide an official definition of a probiotic to clearly differentiate it from an antibiotic. It states that a probiotic is defined as "live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host." In our context, the host is the farm animal.

How do probiotics work? Probiotics are non-harmful living bacterial organisms that are introduced into the gut of chickens through feed or water. They work by producing acids in the gut of the birds, thus lowering the pH of the gut content. An acidic gut content is effective in killing or inhibiting the growth and multiplication of harmful bacteria or germs. This reduces the pathogen load in the gut and allows the birds to digest and absorb most feed nutrients, thus promoting growth and development. Probiotics also stimulate the production of natural killer cells in the gut that fight harmful bacteria. Additionally, they produce chemicals called metabolites that directly inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.

Importance of probiotics. Probiotics have been used to replace antibiotics as growth promoters in feed. By reducing the use of these AGPs in the food system, we can intentionally contribute to a reduction in the level of ‘superbugs’ (high antibiotic-resistant bacteria) in both humans and farm animals. This noble action means we will have contributed to lowering resistance to essential drugs used to treat most respiratory infections, enteric infections, and other infections acquired during long stays in medical facilities. There are many probiotics in the market, including Ecobiol, Clostat, Aviguard, PoultryStar, etc.

It is our responsibility as food animal producers and processors, farmers, government regulators, and pharmaceutical industries to develop comprehensive strategies to address the excessive use of antibiotics in farm animals. It is certainly in the common interest of poultry meat and egg consumers that the major industry players maintain a secure supply of healthy, inexpensive, and safe meat and eggs with zero antibiotic residues for the Kenyan population.

It is equally important to note that besides the use of probiotics, preventing the introduction of disease agents into your farm is key.

Isolation of the flock unit is vitally important to reduce the possibility of introducing harmful pathogens into a clean house or barn environment. People traffic constitutes the biggest threat to any poultry production. Ideally, farm owners should provide shower facilities and farm clothing for all farm employees and any essential visitors.

It's important for farmers to remember that pathogens can reach your flock in hundreds of different ways, such as feed, wild birds, rodents, insects, day-old chicks, visitors, trucks, equipment, and adjacent flocks. These pathogens or germs (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.) will cause poor performance as well as disease outbreaks. To have a clean start, buy your chicks from disease-free parents; this will save you money and time from treating chicks soon after they arrive on the farm.

Do not overstock (control stocking density). Caretakers must provide the correct stocking density for the type and age of the bird as they grow into the productive stage. Overcrowding is likely to lead to competition for feed and water, resulting in disease outbreaks and stress.

Avoid multi-age flock production systems. Farmers are advised to manage birds of a single age on the same site; this is referred to as an ‘All-in/All-out’ program. Managing different ages near one another creates problems, making vaccination and cleaning more difficult and less effective, leading to the use of antibiotics to control health-related issues.

[For more information, please contact [email protected].]

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