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4-minute read

Improve Poultry Gut Health in Antibiotic-Free Chicken Production

Broilers in a modern production facility.
Dr. Marco Rebollo, DVM

Lead Researcher – Poultry
Zinpro Corporation

The gastrointestinal tract is one of the largest immune organs in a bird’s body. It is responsible for digesting and absorbing nutrients and acts as a barrier against infections. The gastrointestinal tract is responsible for up to 70% of the animal’s immune response activity, so optimal gut health is vital to poultry growth and performance.

With the continued growth of antibiotic-free chicken and no antibiotics ever (NAE) production, infectious challenges — primarily coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis — can be made worse if poultry producers don’t have consistent prophylactic management practices and a quality nutrition program in place. Poultry gut health is vital in managing potential health challenges.

Leaky Gut and Intestinal Inflammation

The gastrointestinal tract is comprised of a layer of epithelial cells, bound together by tight junctions. This is a critical component of the barrier that protects the bird from infectious agents. During times of stress or zinc deficiency, those tight junctions can malfunction, resulting in a condition called leaky gut.

When tight junctions are weakened by pathogens such as bacteria and their toxins they are able to pass between the epithelial cells, an immune response is triggered and results in intestinal inflammation. Intestinal inflammation causes a roughness in a bird’s gastrointestinal tract, which impairs its ability to absorb nutrients and achieve its genetic potential. This is compounded by the fact that inflammation itself consumes a significant amount of nutrients that could otherwise be used for growth and production.

Learn more: Leaky Gut and Inflammation in Animals

Improve Intestinal Integrity with Performance Trace Minerals

Research shows that the weakening of tight junctions is more serious when a bird is experiencing zinc, manganese or copper deficiencies. These trace minerals are cofactors for important enzymes, regulatory molecules and protective proteins that are produced by the immune system.

There are two avenues through which zinc, manganese and copper mitigate inflammation caused by leaky gut:

  1. By strengthening tight junctions in the gastrointestinal tract during an immune challenge.
  2. By enhancing the white blood cell population in the animal, so that birds can respond to immune challenges with an inflammatory response that is rapid and robust.

Supplementing your poultry nutrition program with inorganic sources of trace minerals may not be enough to improve intestinal integrity in your flock. The amount of inorganic trace minerals a bird is able to absorb is limited. Therefore, poultry producers should supplement their poultry nutrition programs with performance trace minerals.

Performance Trace Minerals Reduce Coccidiosis Lesion Scores

In one study, 320 male Cobb broilers were fed four diets with basal levels of 40 ppm zinc (diets 1, 3, 4 had 80 ppm manganese and diet 2 had 40 ppm manganese from sulfate) supplemented with:

  • Group 1: 40 ppm of zinc from Availa®Zn
  • Group 2: 40 ppm of zinc from Availa-Zn and 40 ppm of manganese from Availa®Mn
  • Group 3: 60 ppm of zinc from Availa-Zn
  • Group 4: 40 ppm of zinc from zinc sulfate

The birds were challenged with a pathogenic coccidia mix (Eimeria acervulina, E. maxima, E. tenella) on day 14, and then euthanized on day 20. Birds fed zinc from Availa-Zn, manganese from Availa-Mn, or a combination of both had average coccidiosis lesions scores up to 22% lower than birds fed sulfates alone.

Bar graph showing coccidiosis lesion scores.

Performance Trace Minerals Reduce Mortality from Necrotic Enteritis in Chickens

In another study, 2,500 male Ross 708 broilers were challenged with pathogenic Clostridium perfringens via water on days 19, 20 and 21 to evaluate mortality rates tied to Necrotic Enteritis. The broilers were fed one of four diets:

  • Group 1: 100 ppm of zinc from zinc sulfate, 100 ppm manganese from manganese sulfate and 20 ppm copper from Cu sulfate
  • Group 2: 60 ppm of zinc from Availa-Zn and 40 ppm zinc from sulfate
  • Group 3: 60 ppm of zinc from Availa-Zn, 40 ppm zinc from sulfate and 10 ppm of copper from Availa®Cu
  • Group 4: 40 ppm of zinc from Availa-Zn, 60 ppm zinc from sulfate and 40 ppm manganese from Availa-Mn, 60 ppm manganese from sulfate

Birds fed diets containing performance trace minerals had mortality rates up to 69% lower than birds fed sulfates alone. Mortality rates for the performance trace minerals were up to 48% lower than birds treated with BMD, a first-choice antimicrobial treatment.

Bar graph showing necrotic enteritis mortality rates.

More research: Intestinal Inflammation in Poultry: A Growing Trend

Improve Intestinal Integrity Through Management and Nutrition

With decreased use of antibiotics in NAE production systems, health conditions like leaky gut and intestinal inflammation will likely become a more prominent production challenge within poultry operations.

Poultry producers need to rethink their best management practices, such as reducing and managing stocking density in the barns and implementing more meticulous sanitation procedures.

Additionally, producers should avoid feeding pharmaceutical levels of inorganic sources of trace minerals and, instead supplement their poultry nutrition programs with performance trace minerals like Availa-Zn, Availa-Mn and Availa-Cu.

This will help ensure optimum poultry gut health, maintain tight junctions and limit the negative impact of intestinal inflammation.

To learn more about feeding Zinpro Performance Minerals® in your poultry nutrition program, contact your Zinpro representative today.

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