Probiotics in RWA production
By Treena Hein
New insights into the use of probiotics as alternative health protectants.
By Treena Hein
As ‘Raised Without Antibiotics’ (RWA) chicken production grows – and the elimination of antibiotics for growth promotion and health protection continues within Canada’s broiler industry – the need for alternatives also grows.
It’s well known that probiotics boost the immune system of animals and compete with negative and dangerous bacteria that can cause lower performance levels, disease and mortality. Last year, an analysis firm called Global Market Insights (GMI) estimated that the global market size for probiotics in chicken production was over $750 million USD in 2015, and is likely to grow to about $1.2 billion USD by 2023.
GMI also notes that the beneficial probiotic bacterial and yeast species used with chickens belong to several groups such as Bacillus, Streptococcus, Lactobacillus, Enterococcus, Bifidobacterium, Candida, Saccharomyces and Aspergillus. Poultry probiotics products are available in the form of powder and liquid feed supplements, and may involve a single strain of bacteria or yeast or several strains or a mixture of both.
Dr. Shayan Sharif leads a team at the University of Guelph in Ontario studying probiotics as an alternative to traditional antimicrobials in chicken production to combat pathogens Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni and Clostridium perfringens. Sharif’s team has shown that feeding combinations of different lactic acid-producing bacteria can significantly reduce colonization of Salmonella. When asked if he therefore recommends that broiler and egg producers use probiotics containing these bacteria, Sharif says, “In general yes, but our bacterial culture has not yet been approved for commercial use.”
With regard to Campylobacter jejuni, the main bacterial cause of human foodborne illness, Sharif says he and his colleagues have shown that probiotics can also reduce the amount of this bacteria in chickens, although the reduction is modest compared to what they’ve so far observed with Salmonella. There are no tangible results at this point on probiotic effects on Clostridium perfringens, which can cause Necrotic Enteritis.
Sharif’s team is also studying the effect of probiotics on chicken health, welfare, immune system function and production parameters, including cost.
“We and others have shown very conclusively that probiotics could have a beneficial effect on the overall health of their host,” Sharif explains. “In my lab in particular, we have shown that administration of probiotics to chickens can enhance their immune responsiveness. We have not looked at welfare per se, but one can only imagine that when their health is improved, their welfare will inevitably be improved as well. Finally, my lab and other labs have looked at production and there is certainly a positive impact on production after probiotics administration.”
Sharif believes that it’s important to remember that many effects vary from one group of probiotic bacteria to another. “So, you cannot come up with a mix that does everything well,” he explains. “However, we are now working towards developing a bacterial community that has the right balance of the most desirable effects.”
Dr. Patricia Rayas at Oklahoma State University and her colleagues have also studied probiotics and poultry for the last several years. In 2017, a study involving Rayas, Dr. Alejandro Penaloza and Dr. Zorba Hernandez found that broilers receiving probiotics had increased weight gain and a lower death rate.
The team fed the chickens a mixture of probiotic strains selected for their ability to produce large amounts of exoenzymes, which help improve the use of nutrients in the feed and stabilize gut micro-organisms. The probiotics were placed under intense heat to ensure they would survive cooking of the food pellet.
Jerry Kamphuis from Country Lane Farms near Calgary, Alta., grows 5,000-RWA broilers that are sold directly to consumers who have made online orders. Kamphuis says he started using probiotics and stopped the use of antibiotics to prevent disease and promote growth about 25 years ago.
About 15 years ago, he started using Alltech antibiotic alternative products as he sees them as highly research-based and advanced, but notes that probiotics are only one of many things he does to produce consistently better-quality chicken.
Kamphuis uses an organic cleaner between flocks and a downtime of two days. In addition, he slows the feed rate near the end of the flock cycle and has developed feeds to ensure better bird health and meat quality. He says his costs of production and his mortality rates (two-to-four per cent, mostly trending towards two per cent) are similar to that of conventional producers who still use preventative antibiotics.
Bruce Fox, a chicken producer in Wooler, Ont., started using probiotics cleaning products last year after about six years of RWA production. He started using ‘Choice Probiotics PIP’ products made by a Belgium company called Chrisal, after finding them through searching the internet for alternatives to conventional disinfectants.
“Disinfecting between flocks is not productive as it kills all the bacteria, both good and bad,” Fox explains. “After disinfecting, you have to start from scratch to get the populations of good bacteria up and meanwhile, dangerous bacteria can grow and compete with them.”
Fox uses the PIP Animal Housing Cleaner between flocks and says it works very well. “It’s environmentally-friendly and safe too,” he reports. “If I get it on my skin, it doesn’t matter and I can discharge the wash water with no worries for the environment. These products are completely biodegradable.”
Fox sprays PIP Animal Housing Stabilizer over new flocks every day during their first week and then twice-a-week thereafter to keep the populations of good bacteria high. He also adds PIP Water Plus to the water line to keep bad bacteria from growing and to prevent the formation of biofilm.
In terms of bird performance, Fox has found that his average mortality is lower than before using the products and his weights have been steadily increasing.
“The weights are up so much that for my next flock, I have requested one less day in the barn from my processor,” he says. Fox has had some discussions with Chicken Farmers of Ontario about the products, and has asked about being able to forego the use of traditional disinfectants, which are currently required once a year for barn cleaning.
It appears that there are no independent research papers published on the use of Chrisal products in agricultural settings.