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Gut Health for Layers

Increasing global demand for eggs is creating the need for improved persistency in laying and stability in egg quality. In turn, the laying cycle of commercial flocks can be extended to 90–100 weeks.

Egg production is consumer led. With estimations that the global population will reach 10 billion by 2050, there is increased pressure on producers to increase the quality and quantity of protein.  Since 1990, the global egg production volume has increased by over 100%. Additionally, consumers are also looking for a larger table egg. These changing requirements put pressure on farmers and integrators to meet demand. Consequently, metabolic pressure on the birds to fulfill needs, putting a strain on laying persistence, eggshell quality and gut health.

Gut health is the foundation for healthier, longer lay

The layer sector is moving towards longer laying cycles with birds set to be laying up to 500 eggs in a laying cycle of 100 weeks. This extended laying cycle in poultry – from 75 weeks to 100 week – now means that the birds outlive their vaccination programs.

Aging birds may face increased disease risks with longer periods of no vaccination. At the same time, there is pressure on poultry producers to reduce the use of antibiotics. The reduction in antimicrobial use means there would be vaccinations during the rearing period, but this would place tremendous pressure on the immune system.

The development of a rich and diverse microbiota has to be in balance with an efficient defense of the gut mucosa. A holistic approach to the choice of in-feed eubiotic additives and feed composition will positively influence the intestinal microbial community to improve the bird’s immune system.

Gut health is key to improving laying rate

Pullets undergo fast physical development before the laying period (0–16 weeks). There are four stages of this development:

Meanwhile, the interactions between the gut and commensal microbes have proved to play crucial roles in preventing pathogen colonization, enhancing hosts' metabolism of nutrients, improving the digestion of indigestible polysaccharides and promoting the development of gastrointestinal mucosal immune system, which indicates that the alteration of the intestinal microbiota could be involved in the regulation of organ development at different periods.

It is important that pullets receive an appropriate diet throughout the rearing phase to establish a healthy gut from the beginning so that they have the correct body composition to sustain egg production beyond 90 weeks.

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A healthy gut improves nutrient absorption and eggshell quality

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The gastrointestinal (GI) tract of the bird is home to a complex mix of microbiota, including bacteria, fungi and protozoa. When the mix of microorganisms is balanced, they interact to create an optimal environment for absorption and digestion.

The diagram of a layer digestive system below explains the multistep process that begins with taking food and ends when indigestible waste is expelled, highlighting the need for a healthy gut. With feed accounting for around 75% of the cost of poultry production, it is imperative to control gut health in order to improve efficiency and profitability.

Improved gut function through maintaining gut structure has a role in the calcium metabolism for eggshell production, resulting in improved calcium digestion and absorption. Calcium carbonate (CaCo3) and protein are the main components of the eggshell, contributing to its strength. Field trials have shown that the inclusion of either probiotic or phytogenic products results in improved eggshell quality, which could see a reduction in the numbers of eggs being downgraded.

Exhibit 1: Poultry Gut Diagram


Exhibit 1: Poultry Gut Diagram; graphic courtesy of poultryhub.org

  1. Food is taken in with the beak, which is the perfect tool for pecking feed in crumble or pellet form, small grains, grass or insects.
  2. From the esophagus, food moves to the crop, an expandable storage compartment, where it can remain for up to 12 hours.
  3. The food trickles from the crop into the bird's gizzard, where digestive enzymes are added to the mix and physical grinding of the food occurs.
  4. From the gizzard, food passes into the small intestine, where most of the food is fully digested and absorbed.
  5. The residue then passes through the caeca, where bacteria help break down undigested food.
  6. From the caeca, food moves to the large intestine, which absorbs water and dries out indigestible particles.
  7. The remaining residue passes through the cloaca where the chicken's urine (the white in chicken droppings) mixes with the waste.

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