Adding chromium to broilers’ diets (Poultry Specialist)
(Editor’s note: Jennifer Timmons is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.)
Chromium is an essential trace mineral for humans and animals. The main form of chromium in the body is trivalent chromium. It is required for carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism. It activates enzymes and maintains the stability of proteins and nucleic acids. However, the primary role of trivalent chromium is to increase the activity of insulin as a component in a molecule called the glucose tolerance factor (GTF). It enhances insulin’s binding to receptors and its sensitivity to the target cell. Most chromium in animal tissue is found in GTF. The role of chromium as an enhancement to glucose metabolism in human health has been studied for many years. A study in the 1950s suggested that brewer’s yeast contained a GTF that prevented diabetes in lab animals. In the 1970’s, a study later determined that this factor included trivalent chromium which was found to lower the blood glucose levels in diabetic mice.
In recent years, there has been more interest to research the utilization of chromium in animal feed. The potential benefits of chromium supplementation in pig and chicken diets have been inconsistent. Beneficial effects of chromium on productive and reproductive performance have been reported, however other studies did not show any beneficial effect of supplemental chromium to pig and chicken diets.
One study reported that stress and disease can increase urinary excretion of chromium and may cause a slight chromium deficiency in broiler chickens. The function of the immune system has been shown to be enhanced by trivalent chromium, and its effects seems more noticeable when birds are stressed.
One study suggested that the immune response of six week old broilers to Infectious Bronchitis was higher with 400 parts per billion chromium supplementation in the diet. Since it has been reported that chromium excretion in the urine increases under stressful conditions, several studies have evaluated the efficacy of chromium supplementation in broiler diets under heat stress conditions. One study reported that the feed efficiency was improved in birds that were fed a chromium supplemented diet raised in a heat stress environment. However, a different study found that chromium supplementation had no effect on the feed efficiency of 42 day old broilers raised under heat stress conditions. This same study reported an improved body weight gain at 42 days of age when broilers were fed a chromium supplemented diet compared to the body weight gain of broilers fed the control diet.
Another study reported that supplementing a broiler diet with chromium can improve the meat quality of 42 day old broilers raised in heat stress conditions. It was reported that lipid oxidation was lower in the thigh and breast meat from the birds fed the chromium supplemented diet compared to the lipid oxidation of the thigh and breast meat from birds fed the control diet.
Lipid oxidation causes a reduction in the quality of meat and meat products. Other reported results of feeding chromium to broilers raised in a heat stress environment were increased carcass yield and reduced abdominal fat compared to the carcass yield and abdominal fat of broilers fed the control diet.
The results of these studies suggest that feeding a chromium supplemented diet may have a positive impact on broiler health and performance especially under stress conditions. However, since the results are inconsistent, more research is needed to understand the effects of supplemental chromium on bird health and performance under various field conditions.
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