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Vets develop new concept to reduce poultry antibiotic use

Olivia Cooper reports..

Poultry farmers are under increasing pressure to find ways to further reduce the usage of antibiotics in animal production. Richard Turner from St David’s Poultry Team explores the options.

The UK is already a very low user of medicines in poultry meat production, and the days of regular antibiotic use are long gone. Many birds are grown with no antibiotic treatment at all, but it does require absolute attention to detail at all levels of production. Veterinary treatment options are diminishing all the time. At the same time as having to responsibly reduce antibiotic usage, farmers also have to ensure the birds’ utmost welfare, while producing meat and eggs at affordable prices – a very difficult balancing act. With this in mind, St David’s Poultry Team have developed the concept of ABC: Applied Bacterial Control. ABC combines conventional and alternative therapies to optimise bird health and hence reduce the need for antibiotic treatments. 

ABC looks closely at all husbandry factors that influence the birds’ microbiome – the bacteria which make up 90% of all cells in and on birds (and humans). In effect we are only 10% human cells, which is rather extraordinary when you think about it! A very large number of bacteria reside in the intestine, and are central to developing the young bird’s immune system and digestion of feed. Chemical messages pass between the bird host cells and bacteria, encouraging the development of helpful and synergistic bacteria, and persuading some pathogenic bacteria to move on and not colonise the gut. The more we learn about bacteria in the gut, and their complicated interactions with the host, the more obvious it becomes that we need to look after the microbiome and not create generalised damage with broad spectrum therapies. The microbiome should be recognised as an organ of the body, which we must try to repair, not destroy. Development of the microbiome is only now being investigated and understood. Traditionally it was assumed that the chick hatched with no gut bacteria and picked up a range of normal bacteria in later life. This is now recognised not to be the case, and in fact the chick develops a bacterial population from its mother before it hatches. We therefore need to consider the hen’s gut health alongside that of the chick. On farms, ABC protocols investigate all areas that impact on the gut microbiome. Is the water clean, is the litter contaminated; how can we promote the useful bacteria while dissuading ‘bad’ bacteria from taking up residence? Seed Feed and Weed (SFW) is a core principle of ABC. Developed by Professor Steve Collet in America, SFW helps the early colonising bacteria by adding more normal bacteria early on in the hatchery or on farm, to promote the development of the correct acid environment in the intestine. Lactobacillus bacteria produce lactic acid, which other bacteria convert to butyric acids. These promote the development and health of the cells that line the intestine and are essential for digestion and a normal healthy gut. Butyrates also help to deter ‘bad’ bacteria from colonising the gut. 

After seeding the gut with the good bacteria, we then have to feed them by adding short chain fatty acids to the water. These nutrients promote the good bacteria and discourage bad bacteria, but a detailed knowledge of the water is required, including its pH and mineral content, as well as its propensity to develop biofilm. Once we have the seed and feed sorted we need to weed. This involves adding feed products like fimbria blockers that prevent bad bacteria from binding to the gut wall. SFW is a major component of ABC, but not the only option. Every farm is different, and ABC is a tailor-made set of protocols, using a wide range of probiotics, prebiotics, acids, disinfection and sanitising systems all designed to help develop and support the microbiome. A healthy microbiome is essential for a healthy life.


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