A healthy gut equals a healthy flock (Poultry Specialist)
(Editor’s note: Jennifer Timmons is an assistant professor with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.)
In October I attended the Virtual Poultry Tech Summit.
It was a three-day virtual meeting which mainly presented new technologies being developed for poultry production and processing.
One presentation by Dr. Charles Hofacre discussed the basics of gut health and how it impacts bird health and food safety.
Controlling the Salmonella contamination on carcasses is a major food safety concern for poultry processing facilities.
Dr. Hofacre stated that Salmonella is a normal part of the bacterial flora of a healthy chicken’s intestine.
However, if the bird experiences an intestinal disease such as coccidiosis or damage to the gut by a mycotoxin it can cause a condition called leaky gut.
This is when the normal flora bacteria of the gut leaks into the bloodstream.
Dr. Hofacre stated that when this occurs, Salmonella can hideout in the liver, the spleen or other organs.
Therefore it is important to maintain the intestinal health of broilers to keep Salmonella in the gut.
One of the most common diseases of broilers that damages the intestines is coccidiosis.
When this organism goes through its life cycle it effects the epithelial cells of the gut which causes damage.
This damage causes the normal bacteria found in the gut to leak into the bloodstream and infect organs such as the liver or the spleen.
These infected organs may result in Salmonella contamination in the processing plant.
When a coccidiosis infection occurs in a bird, its immune system will respond and produce mucous to protect the intestines. Although mucous production serves to help protect the gut from coccidiosis, it also serves as a food source for Clostridium perfringens which is another bacteria present in the normal microflora of the gut of broilers.
Clostridium perfringens produces a toxin that causes necrotic enteritis.
Dr. Hofacre explained that necrotic enteritis can have a negative impact on flock uniformity, and when these uneven smaller birds are processed it can lead to Salmonella contamination on the carcass.
This is because the equipment in the processing plant is set for an average size broiler, and when smaller than average broilers are processed, the equipment can tear the intestinal tract causing the gut content to leak on the carcass.
Dr. Hofacre stated that chemical anticoccidials and natural products such as phytogenic feed additives and organic acids can improve the intestinal barrier and lower the impact of coccidiosis on the gut.
Dr. Hofacre concluded his talk by stating that leg issues in broilers can commonly follow necrotic enteritis and coccidiosis infections.
When the integrity of the intestines is broken, other bacteria such as E. coli or Staphylococcus leak into the bloodstream and localize in leg joints causing lameness in broilers.
Keeping the integrity of the bird’s intestinal tract healthy can have a positive impact on bird health and food safety.
Dr. Hofacre stated a healthy gut can lead to lower flock mortality and increase growth rate as well as reduce leg issues in broilers and lower the potential for Salmonella contamination in the processing facility.