Gut Health Management Strategies in Antibiotic-Free Poultry Production

The removal of antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs), antibiotics and ionophores in antibiotic-free or no antibiotics ever (NAE) program means that new tools are needed to support gut health.

One of the biggest challenges in transitioning from a conventional to an antibiotic-free (ABF) system is the prevention of necrotic enteritis without the use of in-feed medications.

Necrotic enteritis is a complex disease. It is important to look at the underlying and predisposing factors when it comes to prevention. Factors include management practices that lead to increased bacterial load, issues with egg sanitation, reduced house down-time, litter quality and stocking density. Nutritional factors such as indigestible or poor quality dietary protein can lead to increased Clostridium in the hindgut. In terms of health, Eimeria is another well-known predisposing factor for necrotic enteritis. Mycotoxins, which are secondary fungal metabolites, have recently been shown to contribute to intestinal damage and immune suppression. Antonissen et al. (2014) found that a low level of deoxynivalenol (3 to 4 mg/kg) reduced gut barrier integrity and increased the incidence of necrotic enteritis in broilers from 20% to 47%.

Good gut health is the key to producing good quality food consumers demand without antibiotics while achieving desired performance and health goals. Natural feed additives including probiotics, phytogenics and different types of enzymes can be useful tools to support gut health.