A Good Start is Half the Battle: Protecting the Starting Microbiota of Young Animals with Probiotics

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Gut health, including the relationship between a healthy gut, the animal’s microbiota and optimal performance, is undeniably essential for optimal production. This already starts from a young age: the early microbiota influences not only the morphology and physiology of the gastrointestinal tract, but also impacts the development of the animal’s immunity. As such, a good start is essential for the animal to achieve its full potential.

The early microbiota

Due to the high levels of hygiene security in modern commercial production, the natural process of partial maternal microbiota transmission to the newly hatched chicks does not occur. As a result, the initial composition of that early microbiota is mainly driven by contact with microorganisms coming from the rearing environment, as well as those present in the available feed and water. There are distinct differences between the early microbiota and the maturated composition, which can take up to three weeks to form: however, keep in mind that this maturation time and the exact final composition can differ greatly, even between animals on the same farm.

Genetics, farm management and individual responses to influencing factors all play a role. To positively steer the early microbiota and its development, probiotics are a good management tool for producers to use from an early age. These beneficial micro-organisms are incorporated into the feed or drinking water, with the intention to deliver a health benefit to the host. The mode of action for each probiotic can differ, but they all relate back to supporting the general gut health of the animal – including its immunity, microbiota and feed efficiency.

Bacillus licheniformis DSM 28710

When choosing a probiotic, it is no longer a surprise that the preference lies with stable spore-formers, based on a proven and researched mode of action. Especially in terms of product stability, spore-forming bacteria have distinct advantages as spores are robust and able to withstand environmental influences. This includes, but is not limited to, high temperatures during feed processing, different pH values within the animal itself as well as fluctuating storage conditions.

A good example of an effective spore-forming probiotic is B-Act®, which contains viable spores of Bacillus licheniformis (DSM 28710). As its mode of action is diverse, this probiotic strain supports the birds’ gut microflora both directly and indirectly. First, the unique strain is part of the wider Bacillus genus, and as such is a good scavenger. This means it is a strong contender for nutrients and space versus unwanted bacteria, fitting in the wider concept of competitive exclusion. The proliferation of Clostridium perfringens in particular, the key pathogen in production diseases such as necrotic enteritis (NE) and dysbacteriosis, is actively and efficiently inhibited by B-Act®.

Trialed, tested and effective

As with any decision, the choice of which probiotic to apply should be supported with as much relevant information as possible. For B-Act®, there is plenty of research available, with the probiotic strain being extensively trialed and tested. For example, a recent study once more confirmed B. licheniformis DSM 28710 to exert a strong inhibitory effect on nine C. perfringens strains, isolated from NE outbreaks on commercial farms.

Linking this back to applying probiotics in young animals, the importance of the early microbiota cannot be underestimated in mitigating such NE outbreaks – even though these outbreaks occur at a later stage. Ensuring a healthy microbiota from the start, and maintaining it, decreases the opportunity for C. perfringens to take hold and proliferate in the next stages of production. This also justifies the continuous application of B-Act® from as early as possible. It is also essential to keep in mind that general gut health and the related microbiota drive performance. Laying the proper groundwork as early as possible results in a good start for the animal, setting it up for an overall high-yielding production period.

Early probiotic supplementation

To support the idea of influencing the microbiota early on, the first question that needs to be answered is how a probiotic can be applied in these early stages. To put this to the test, B-Act® was applied in newly hatched chicks via gel spraying, and subsequent faecal spore content analysis. The trial used 160 day-old Ross broilers which were sprayed with a coloured gel-solution containing the probiotic. Faecal samples were collected at two time periods (5 and 10 hours after spraying) and analysed for the presence of the probiotic B. licheniformis DSM 28710. All faecal samples had a blue-green colour due to the colouring agent in the gel, indicating that the gel was ingested properly. CFU results at both time points showed that the animals ingested considerable amounts of B-Act® via the gel, thus confirming that the probiotic can be used via gel spraying to supplement animals from an early age (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1. B-Act® spore recovery in faecal matter 5 hours after spraying (log CFU/g faeces sample per four pens)

Figure 2. B-Act® spore recovery in faecal matter 10 hours after spraying (log CFU/g faeces sample per four pens)

The study confirmed that by applying B-Act® via a hatchery gel, probiotic supplementation is possible even before the first feed is introduced. This also opens the door for simultaneous probiotic application with hatchery vaccinations, by adding B-Act® to the vaccination gel. Doing so ensures an early support during the immunity build-up, aiding transition to the following growth stages. As such, B-Act® helps producers to support their animals as early as possible, setting them up for a successful production period from start to finish.