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Broiler gut health 2: Improvements

Course: Tackling common poultry diseases | Last Updates: 7th October 2015

Barrie Flemming
Senior Veterinary Adviser
St David’s Poultry Team at the Dick Vet
Biography >>

Many diseases are largely under control, but the "Holy Grail" for many broiler growers is achieving good gut health. Poor gut health means birds achieve less from a given amount of feed.

Bacteria are not all bad and can play an important role helping broilers digest feed. However, any imbalance may result in a digestive upset and a loss of intestinal integrity. Poor gut health has been calculated to cost up to 6.8p a bird through poor coccidiosis control and enteritis (see part 1 for details).

How can I monitor intestinal integrity?

There are four main methods producers can use to monitor the gut health of their flocks, ranging from simple checking of litter to sophisticated scoring and benchmarking with other flocks.

1 Litter

Wet litter and litter quality have always acted as loose diagnostic indicators of how good intestinal integrity is. The problem with this is that other factors can influence them, from ventilation, humidity, type and absorbency of the litter to drinker management, leaks and stocking density.

With all these influences coupled with the variable absorbencies of different types of litter, merely depending on litter quality or wetness is at best historical and at worst a false indicator. The timing and precision of intervention can be missed.

So, when litter turns, diagnosis has been delayed. As a result, a non-antibiotic strategy at this point would be ineffective and broader spectrum antibiotics and potentially longer courses are required to re-establish intestinal integrity. Broiler performance drops and the environment becomes heavily ?contaminated.

It can then prove difficult for the broilers to re-establish intestinal integrity due to this heavily contaminated environment. This in ?itself can result in treatment failures and further treatments having to be made.

2 Litter box

In attempting to seek a solution, we developed the litter box. This is a useful tool that allows growers to focus on the fluid content in a selection of droppings, rather than just how wet the litter is.

When monitored over a period of time, the litter box could act as an early warning to a loss of intestinal integrity. This means that the historical issues, drinker management and ventilation, could be removed from the equation.

3 Faecal fluid finder

In conjunction with leading poultry vets, we have developed a simple diagnostic device to replace the litter box – the Elanco F3 (Faecal Fluid Finder – see picture). This device, resembling a syringe, provides a rapid test to help identify disease at an early stage. When used to test fresh droppings, it will provide a ratio of the liquid to solid component. The higher the ratio, the wetter the droppings.

faecal-fluid-finderThis early diagnosis can lead to more successful and effective interventions, because they are being implemented at an earlier stage in the development of intestinal disease, resulting in less damage and thus a faster recovery.

When the ratio is greater than 0.5, birds may benefit from an intervention treatment strategy, either management or with a narrow spectrum antibiotic. The opinion of your vet should be sought.

The benefits of using a narrower spectrum antibiotic early in the development of disease include minimal disruption of the bacterial population within the guts, improved health and welfare in the broilers and less risk of resistance development to E coli, salmonella and other coliform bacteria.

Success of the intervention can also be monitored by the continued use of the device and if no improvement is seen in the droppings of the birds being treated within 24 to 36 hours, consult your vet.

4 Health tracking scheme

Elanco has a broad disease database incorporating industry data spanning the past 12 years. It is based on the post-mortems performed on healthy, normal, birds from the national flock. A wide variety of diseases are recorded and tracked in this system, a core component in the latest version being the new intestinal integrity (I2) score.

This unique feature is based on a score of 0–100; the higher the score, the better the I2 of the broilers concerned. It incorporates a number of parameters that are weighted according to the impact each one may have on intestinal integrity. When a post-mortem is performed on a broiler, all the parameters captured are entered into the system. The system then calculates the I2 score for the data entered.

How can you improve your score?

After entry, the data are interrogated to identify which parameters are the driving factors for the loss of I2 and, as a result, an appropriate intervention can be formulated.

For example, if watery intestinal contents, cellular sloughing and feed passage were the main factors found, then a suspicion of dysbacteriosis could be concluded. The peak age affected can be identified and a potential intervention strategy composed to help avoid this from occurring.

By taking into account all the factors around the identified age of challenge, a potential risk factor may be identified and removed, thus improving the situation. The HTS system can also be used to track any potential improvements in the score over time as a form of assurance that the correct steps were implemented and are having a positive impact.

What can I do to maintain intestinal integrity?

The establishment of intestinal integrity begins as soon as the chick hatches. At that moment, the chick begins to swallow bacteria that are within the environment. These bacteria are the first inhabitants of the gut and ultimately the beginnings of the bacterial flora that will help dictate the functionality of the broiler’s gut for the rest of its life.

This early bacterial flora, as well as access to good quality feed, dictates how the gut develops over the first 4-5 days post-hatch. How the gut has developed by the fifth day post-hatch will dictate the potential performance of that broiler for the rest of its life.

However, challenge the chicks early with the wrong type of bacteria (unhygienic conditions in the hatchery/transport or farm) and things can start to rapidly go wrong. This in itself can cause illness, resulting in lower feed intakes as well as the establishment of a bad flora. As a result, the cells of the broilers’ guts do not develop properly and they will struggle to keep up with performance expectations and also be susceptible to many other diseases.

Use of broad spectrum anti-biotics, during this critical development phase at placement, can inhibit the formation of a beneficial micro-flora. This is because broad spectrum antibiotics kill off good as well as bad bacteria.

The best placement strategy would be to avoid using any product with antimicrobial effects. However, this is the real world, and there will always be challenges with less than desirable bacteria. With the latest understanding regarding how the intestine develops over the first few days of life, a targeted medication that will affect only the nasty bacteria, while preserving the desirable bacteria, would be the best option. This will require a degree of co-working with planners/hatchery and live production knowing what is happening and when.

Where this co-working has been implemented, rewards have been great, with improvements in intestinal integrity and thus performance and efficiency of the unit.

How to improve intestinal integrity scores

Treat at the first evidence of loss

  • Earlier identification will result in greater treatment success
  • Use a tool, such as the Faecal Fluid Finder, through periods of risk. Periods of risk could include feed changes (such as grower to finisher), increased stress due to feeder breakdowns and vaccination. Your farm history will also indicate periods of risk

Excellent biosecurity during and between crops

  • Ensure detergents and disinfectants are used on all surfaces
  • Allow an adequate drying period
  • Use an oocydal product

Prepare the house for the new chicks

  • Provide adequate litter depth and type
  • Raise the temperature of the floor as well as the house

Ensure early consumption of feed and water

  • Regularly check the chicks for "crop fill"
  • Make it easy for them to reach and eat food
  • Create the ideal environment for them by having an adequate turnaround

Allow optimal micro-flora development in the first few days post-placement

  • Try to avoid broad-spectrum antibiotics at placement unless directed by your vet
  • Use pro or pre-biotics
  • Start with an ionophore anticoccidial for its ancillary effects
  • Feed the chicks
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