Understanding how the gut health of both broilers and laying hens can influence production, welfare and overall vitality is a critical part of any farmers role.

After all, enteric health is one of the relatively few elements that producers can truly influence – the egg packer or processor often specifies breed, feed, and other inputs.

See also: Major report on laying hen feather cover published

And keeping birds’ gut healthy has proven a key part of the UK poultry sectors successful drive to reduce antibiotics use in production.

That’s why Poultry.Network and Alltech recently brought together two panels of experts to talk broiler and layer gut health in two sessions.  

Joining them were speakers from across the UK industry and ‘Gut Health Guru’ Steve Collet, a qualified veterinarian and a global authority on enteric health. Producers who tuned in learned:

The gut is a complex ecosystem.

Having at least a basic understanding of how the poultry gut works is the first step in managing health better.

Birds evolved lightweight intestines to aid flight, and operate both peristalsis and reverse peristalsis, where ingested food moves down the gut, and back up for repeated digestion.

The danger with this mechanism is that unwanted products in the caeca (located at the end of the gut) can be sent back up into the intestine and cause damage to the gut.

Understanding the signs that something is awry and what might be done to correct a problem are essential measures to take.

Litter is a crucial indicator of gut health

“Probably the most important indicator of gut health is faecal and caecal output,” says Professor Collet. When birds are challenged, faecal material changes its form.

Mild enteritis causes both faecal and caecal excretions to change in viscosity – they become more liquid.

This initial indicator something is wrong is often missed because droppings are trampled into the litter.

Obvious enteritis will have faecal material losing its shape completely, and there will be orange mucus in the litter that indicates an inflammatory response.

A damaged gut impacts digestion of feed that can be visible in the faecal droppings.

Caecal excretion will move from a dark, black paste to a butterscotch orange colour. Gas in the gut will also cause the droppings to present as foam.  

More water is deposited onto litter, and its quality will then become compromised.

Understand your water supply

For both broilers and laying hens, water quality could not be more critical – it has been described as the forgotten nutrient.

Increasingly, additives like organic acids are used to manage gut health, but they must be used with care.

Clean water lines are essential before using anything.

In addition to hygiene, it’s critical to understand the PH and how hard or soft the water is.

The next step is to consider how additives to water might change the acidity or interact with other products being put through water. It’s not unheard of for one additive to render another inactive.

Anyone interested in receiving a recording of either session can email Alltech’s John Cooper.