Feeding young broiler chickens a prebiotic yeast supplement could have positive effects on their development and increase their defences against gut infections according to research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the animal nutrition company Alltech UK.
Reducing infectious disease in the gut of broilers without relying on antibiotics is a major challenge for individual farmers and the poultry industry, both in terms of animal welfare and to reduce the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Scientists from Nottingham Trent University (NTU) fed 240 broiler chickens differing doses of a yeast-based feed supplement and monitored them every day for 42 days. Except for their feed, all other conditions were identical. Their findings suggest that a feed supplement containing a carbohydrate found in yeast resulted in the birds having greater natural defences to harmful bacteria entering their guts and that younger broilers gained the most benefit from the supplement.
Lead researcher Harriet Lea, a BBSRC funded Industrial CASE student based in the university’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, explained: “Gut related disease in broiler chickens affects 184 million birds in the UK annually, resulting in poor animal welfare and reduced growth. There are several non-antibiotic feed supplements on the market, but there is a real need to understand how exactly they support gut health in chickens so that farmers have a better chance of increasing their efficiency and improving flock welfare. This will have the knock on benefit of reducing the need for treatment with costly antibiotics and help tackle the serious issue of antibiotic resistance in poultry.”
The research, published in the Journal of Applied Animal Nutrition, suggests the benefits of this supplement Actigen, made by Alltech, could be age-dependent with younger birds having increased storage capacity of mucin – a substance secreted by the gut lining, which can help defend against infectious agents.
The natural carbohydrate fraction investigated is a feed supplement already used in some commercial broiler diets but there is uncertainty as to how it works. Although the supplement is likely to work through several mechanisms, these findings help clarify how the supplement improves the immune defences of the bird through altered mucin production.
These new findings may lead to more widespread use of yeast-derived supplements in broiler feeds to improve gut health and immunity. The next stage of the project is to investigate the effects of this natural carbohydrate fraction on gene expression of the bird to investigate at a molecular level how the supplement induces change in bird development and gut health.