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Essential Oils in Drinking Water: Using Flexibility and Speed to Help Poultry During Gut Health Challenges

While adding phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) to feed is the most common application method, many producers are realizing the benefits of including PFAs in drinking water. PFAs can be used to tackle necrotic enteritis (NE) in poultry, a challenge likely to result in decreased feed intake. Drinking water application of PFAs ensures they are delivered to the gut during times when they are most needed.

Mathias Zaunschirm

In Brief
• Bans on the use of antibiotic growth promotors in livestock production around the world have resulted in a performance gap.
• Phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) can help bridge the gap due to their broad spectrum of beneficial biological effects.
• Drinking water application of PFAs is flexible and quick and is increasing in popularity.
• Application can take place in combination with other additives such as organic acids, probiotics, or vaccines.

The use of feed additives based on natural ingredients, such as essential oils, is gaining popularity in livestock production. These phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) are not limited to the use of essential oils but cover a broad spectrum of ingredients from herbs and spices, to essential oils and other non-volatile extracts.

Phytogenic feed additives are known to exert a broad spectrum of beneficial biological effects in livestock animals, such as:

  • anti-inflammatory activity
  • antioxidant activity
  • gut microbiota modulation
  • improvement in gut barrier function

These all result in an improved quality and function of the gut, which will ultimately have a positive effect on animal performance (Lillehoj et al., 2018, Windisch et al., 2008). Since the 2006 ban on using antibiotic growth promotors (AGPs) due to the emerging risk of antibiotic resistance in Europe,  several bans on using single antibiotics for disease prevention followed in other countries around the world. As such, animal producers are constantly looking for alternatives to fill the performance gap in livestock production, and feed additive companies are developing solutions to meet the market needs.

Phytogenic feed additives are known to exert a broad spectrum of beneficial biological effects in livestock animals.

Common application of PFAs

The most common application method for PFAs in poultry production is inclusion in feed. This presents some challenges for animal producers, such as:

  • Thermostability / recovery of feed additives during the feed manufacturing process
  • Mixing quality of the feed mill
  • Feed quality (possible mycotoxin contamination)
  • Difficult on-farm application due to low inclusion rate
  • Feed refusal (e.g. due to animal sickness, smell of feed additive)

Water application as an alternative route to improve performance

In poultry production, administration of a broad range of medications (including vaccines) as well as other feed additives, such as vitamins, minerals or acidifiers is common practice. As livestock producers realize the additional value of PFAs, supplementation via the drinking water has gained popularity.

Four points to consider during PFA administration via drinking water:

  1. Water quality: check for microbiological and chemical contamination
  2. Water solubility of the additives: PFAs need to be water soluble to achieve homogenization
  3. Possible interaction of additives in drinking water
  4. Potential clogging of additives in the nipple drinkers

PFA administration via the drinking water, which can be complementary to or instead of in-feed inclusion, has big advantages. Application can easily be achieved on-farm, e.g. with a dosing system, offering the producer full security that the PFA reaches the animal.

PFAs applied via the drinking water avoid the problem of suppressed feed intake during times of illness or enteric challenge and so continue to exert their beneficial effects, supporting recovery.

It is known that sick animals reduce or completely stop their feed intake, which means that when PFAs are applied in the feed, ingestion decreases, leading to less support of the animals’ health and therefore compromised performance. But PFAs administered via the drinking water avoid this problem since water intake does not drop when animals are sick. Therefore, the PFA can continue to exert its beneficial effects, supporting the animal during times of challenges to recovery.

Digestarom® P.E.P. sol – a flexible and rapid drinking water solution during enteric challenges

BIOMIN offers Digestarom® P.E.P. sol, which can be applied via the drinking water to flexibly and rapidly support animals during enteric challenges. Digestarom® P.E.P. sol is a liquid form phytogenic blend of oregano oil, citrus oil, and anis oil extracts, formulated to optimize animal performance.

Digestarom® P.E.P. sol:

  • helps maintain feed intake under challenging conditions
  • modulates gut microbiota to decrease pathogenic bacteria pressure
  • decreases intestinal stress making more nutrients available for production
  • enhances gut integrity to improve immune resilience against stressors

A key advantage is the flexibility in dose rate and duration of the Digestarom® P.E.P. sol application depending on the challenge. With a proven rapid, targeted response, Digestarom® P.E.P. sol can be added to the drinking water in combination with other additives such as organic acids (e.g. Biotronic®), probiotics (PoultryStar®), or vaccines.

Experiences in poultry

Necrotic enteritis (NE) is an extremely costly disease affecting up to 40% of commercial broiler flocks worldwide, with an estimated cost of approximately USD 0.05 per bird (McDevitt et al., 2006). The causative agent of NE, Clostridium perfringens is a Gram-positive, anaerobic, and spore-forming bacterium that is widely present in the environment. Clinical signs of NE include increased mortality associated with severe lesions on the intestinal mucosa. Subclinical symptoms are reflected in less severe lesions, depressed growth rates and poor feed conversion resulting in reduced profit.

Digestarom® P.E.P. sol improves gut quality and function of broilers under a subclinical NE challenge

In a scientific study carried out at the University of Ghent, Belgium, mixed-sex Ross 308 broilers were kept for 24 days in cages with solid walls to prevent contact between birds of different treatments. The birds were divided into three groups: a negative control group (unchallenged), a positive control group (challenged) and a challenged + Digestarom® P.E.P. sol group.

To introduce the subclinical NE challenge, the groups were challenged on day 17 -20 with Clostridium perfringens (CP) via oral inoculation and on day 18 with a coccidial vaccine. The challenged + Digestarom® P.E.P. sol group received 60mL/1000L Digestarom® P.E.P. sol from day 15-24 via the drinking water.

Figure 1. Reduced intestinal lesions under subclinical clostridial challenge using Digestarom® P.E.P sol
Reducing intestinal lesions contributes to improved broiler gut quality and function, resulting in reduced disease incidence and less treatment costs.

On days 22-24, birds were sampled (10 per treatment) and gross lesions in the intestine were analyzed. Birds in the unchallenged group showed no intestinal lesions, whereas challenged birds in the positive control group had the highest overall percentage (58.6%) of birds with lesions. In comparison with the positive control group, the percentage of birds with lesions was significantly reduced (P < 0.05) in the challenged group supplemented with Digestarom® P.E.P. sol (27.6%; Figure 1). Reducing intestinal lesions contributes to improved broiler gut quality and function, resulting in reduced disease incidence and less treatment costs.

Digestarom® P.E.P. sol recovers performance in laying hens under clostridia challenge

In another trial, 21,100 Lohmann brown laying hens were raised in an aviary system at a commercial farm in Italy. All birds faced a clostridia challenge. Performance and mortality were observed from week 56 to 60. Before week 56 the hens received a basal diet (without Digestarom® P.E.P. sol added to the drinking water). At week 56, Digestarom® P.E.P. sol was added to the drinking water at a concentration of 60mL / 1000L for 6 days and then at a concentration of 30mL / 1000L for the following 19 days.

The overall mortality (0.5%) and mortality caused by clostridia (0.2%) was quite high until week 56. After the introduction of Digestarom® P.E.P sol at week 56, mortality caused by clostridia decreased to zero within three weeks. Overall mortality was brought steadily to the Lohmann breed standard (0.13%) by week 60. Additionally, Digestarom® P.E.P sol application improved the laying percentage compared to the historical standard performance (83.5%) levels when an antibiotic (Tylosin phosphate) was used as clostridiosis control. Digestarom® P.E.P. delivered the desired Lohmann breed standard performance level (85.0%) after only three weeks (Figure 2).

In addition to the flexibility and rapid response of Digestarom® P.E.P sol to a clostridiosis challenge, making it an effective antibiotic alternative, economic calculations showed that Digestarom® P.E.P. sol application delivered a benefit of EUR 0.05/layer compared to the standard performance (with the antibiotic).

Economic calculations showed that Digestarom® P.E.P sol delivered an additional benefit of EUR 0.05/layer.

Figure 2. Improvement in laying percentage after Digestarom® P.E.P. sol application via drinking water


  • Digestarom® P.E.P. sol as the liquid phytogenic solution via drinking water represents a valuable complementary or standalone alternative to in-feed additives due to its high flexibility and fast response during various challenges in poultry, increasing the tolerance to stressors and thereby improving animal performance


Lillehoj, H., Liu, Y., Calsamiglia, S., Fernandez-Miyakawa, M.E., Chi, F., Cravens, R.L., Oh, S. and Gay, C.G. (2018). Phytochemicals as antibiotic alternatives to promote growth and enhance host health. Veterinary Research. 49: 79. doi: 10.1186/s13567-018-0562-6.

McDevitt, R.M., Brooker, J.D., Acamovic, T. and Sparks, N.H.C. (2006). Necrotic enteritis; a continuing challenge for the poultry industry. World’s Poultry Science Journal. 62(2):221-247.

Windisch, W., Schedle, K., Plitzner, C. and Kroismayr, A. (2008). Use of phytogenic products as feed additives for swine and poultry. Journal of Animal Science. 86(14 Suppl). E140–E148.