The Power of Probiotics: Maximizing Meat-Bird Potential

If you raise chickens for meat, you know the importance of diet in getting your birds to harvest weight in as little time as possible. Because meat birds (for example, Cornish cross or broilers) are harvested between 6 and 10 weeks of age, it’s important to rapidly maximize growth. A diet containing 22% protein may support this rapid development. Probiotics are another important key to high yield in a short time frame.

History of Poultry Probiotics

Protein and probiotics didn’t always go hand in hand in meat-bird feed. In fact, probiotic technology is relatively new in the world of poultry farming. In the late 1940s, farmers fed antibiotics to meat chickens to further increase their size and prevent disease. These birds grew 2.5 times faster than chickens on a normal diet.

However, 40 years later, Dr. Leighton Linn, a livestock veterinarian from South Dakota, questioned this practice. He believed that correctly formulated probiotics would be superior to antibiotics.

Linn moved to Missouri in 1974 to found Star-Labs with partners Cliff Boyer and Gary Jones. Through careful research, they created a combination of probiotics to colonize a chicken’s entire digestive system and demonstrated through scientific trials that birds fed with the proper combination of probiotics experience significant growth.

Live Is Better

Star-Labs also found that the heat required for the pelleting process killed some of the probiotic micro-organisms. But they knew that meat birds gain the most benefit from feed with live, stable bacteria. With this discovery in mind, Star-Labs developed technology for poultry feeds that delivers live, effective probiotics able to withstand the heat of the pelleting process.

Effective probiotics may include the following strains:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Enteroccus faecium
  • Bifidobacterium thermophilum

Why Probiotics for Meat Birds?

Simply put, the superior, research-based results speak for themselves. According to Dr. Gary Davis from North Carolina State University, quality probiotics “enhance nutrient utilization, uptake, and absorption…[and] an immune response in the bird’s gut. This is an excellent management tool to help birds fight off diseases.”

Beneficial bacteria create a bigger bird during the same time period. These Cornish cross siblings of the same sex are 21 days old. They were fed a 22% protein diet with the following additives: left, no additives; middle, antibiotics; right, live, quality, stable probiotics. The probiotic difference is clear. Image courtesy of Star-Labs.

Diets containing high-quality, stable probiotics, such as NatureWise® Meatbird Feed, can boost the number of good gut bacteria, crowd out bad gut bacteria, increase nutrient absorption, and create a slightly acidic gut that favors good bacteria.

See for Yourself!

Ask for NatureWise® Meatbird Feed with probiotics. It will support your birds’ health, feed conversion, and livability—all without antibiotics. To maximize the potential of NatureWise® Meatbird Feed, follow the below feeding instructions:

  • Provide as the sole ration from hatch to finish.
  • Use a 12-hours-on/12-hours-off feed rotation to prevent overeating.
  • Keep clean, fresh water available at all times.
  • Clean feeders and waterers regularly.

For more information on these probiotics and their benefits, see the post “Chicken Feeds: They’re not all the same.” 

Chicken Feeds: They’re not all the same.

Did you know that a quality chicken feed is more than just grains, vitamins, and minerals? While these ingredients are necessary, they are only part of a diet that helps your birds live their best life. Quality, higher-technology feeds include beneficial microflora, which are gut-friendly organisms such as bacteria and yeast. These tiny living things populate the chicks’ digestive systems, aid in digestion, and strengthen the chicken’s immune system.

Let’s at look some of these added extras that contribute to a chicken’s digestive health. Then you’ll know what to look for when you’re looking for your next feed.   

Fungal Components

The next time you look at a feed label, check for the words yeast culture. Also called fermentation metabolites, this additive is composed of compounds produced by fermentation of dietary yeast, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae (sak-uh-roh-MY-seez sehr-uh-VEE-see-eye). When fermented inside a chicken’s gut, yeast culture has the following functions:

    • Supports the immune system and gut microflora
    • Contributes to the health and strength of intestinal tissues
    • Produces compounds that latch on to bad bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella and prevent them from attaching to the cells of the digestive tract

Another fungal product involves the fermentation of Trichoderma reesei (trih-kuh-DER-muh REE-see-eye). This feed component is an enzyme source, and the compounds it produces help break down carbohydrates to make nutrients more available to the chicken.

Probiotics

You’ve seen probiotics intended for humans, but did you know that probiotics are also helpful for your chickens? Probiotics are live microorganisms that result from fermentation and aid in digestion. Around 70 percent of the bacteria in a chicken’s digestive tract is Lactobacillus strains. They support the existence of beneficial bacteria, and some protect against bad bacteria. Many of these microorganisms are found in several places in the digestive tract. Look for these probiotics on feed labels:

    • Lactobacillus acidophilus (LAK-toh-buh-SI-luhs a-suh-DAH-fuh-luhs): Helps ferment carbohydrates, produces chemicals that support growth, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
    • Lactobacillus casei (LAK-toh-buh-SI-luhs KAY-see-eye): Helps ferment carbohydrates, reduces colonization of bad bacteria, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
    • Bifidobacterium thermophilum (bye-fih-DOH-bak-TEER-ee-um ther-muh-FIH-lum): Helps ferment carbohydrates, benefits immune system
    • Enterococcus faecium (en-tuh-row-KAW-kuhs FEE-see-um): Helps ferment carbohydrates, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms

When probiotics form part of the chicken’s microflora, they support the immune system and reduce disease. They also help the gut better absorb nutrients and can prevent or cure diarrhea.

Prebiotics

The prefix pre means “before,” and prebiotics pave the way for probiotics to do their job. They serve as food for good bacteria, supporting growth and strengthening the chicken’s ability to resist bad bacteria. When they are fermented by a chicken’s body, they create compounds that stop the growth of harmful bacteria and keep them from sticking to the intestinal walls.

Prebiotics cannot be broken down and absorbed by the digestive system. After the chicken eats prebiotic material, some remains in the crop. However, most prebiotics travel into the lower parts of the digestive tract, including the ceca. Here they aid in fermentation and balance the acidity of the ceca for optimal health.

Some of these prebiotics might appear on the feed label, or you can supplement your chickens’ diet with these common sources of prebiotics:

    • Flaxseed
    • Barley
    • Berries
    • Dandelion greens
    • Kelp
    • Garlic
    • Honey
    • Wheat bran
    • Yams
    • Lentils

While technically not a prebiotic, yeast culture has properties that can be included in the prebiotic category. It assists with nutrient absorption and digestion and produces compounds that can improve growth and enhance the immune system.

What to Look for on the Label

The next time you buy feed, read the label closely. There are two main sections to every feed label:

    • Guaranteed analysis lists the percentages of ingredients that the feed is certified to contain.
    • Ingredients includes everything that is found in the feed.

Look for probiotics, such as Lactobacillus strains, in the Guaranteed Analysis and Ingredients. The fungal products will appear in the Ingredients section only.

The next time you choose a commercially formulated feed for your flock, remember to look for yeast culture, prebiotics, and probiotics. These important ingredients will give your chickens some extra love and help them live their best lives.

Keeping Your Chickens Healthy This Winter

As George R. R. Martin loves to remind us, “Winter is coming,” and now it is almost upon us. While other folks might be worrying about preparing for the holidays or making the most of their limited daylight, chicken owners have their own unique set of concerns about the health and productivity of their birds.

One of these, as always, is predation, which remains a threat to backyard flocks year-round, even as many predators go into hibernation or migrate to avoid the colder weather. There are many simple steps coop owners can take to protect their birds from the weather and maintain their productivity in the face of dwindling daylight, several of which will also help keep winter predators at bay. In addition to those, however, there are always a few more things the cautious chicken owner can do to make sure their chickens make it through the winter unscathed and uneaten. 

Install an automatic door on your chicken coop. An automatic coop door might seem like an unnecessary expense, but they’re worth their weight in gold once winter comes and the darkness starts setting in earlier and earlier. Getting the hens in by nightfall is probably the easiest and most important thing an owner can do to keep them safe from predators, and an automatic coop door is especially helpful in the winter. As a bonus, many automatic doors are light-sensitive, so they can adjust the hens’ bedtime with the changing hours of sunrise and sunset, regardless of when their owner gets off from work or back from the store. The one concern for people in wintery areas looking to outfit their coops with an automatic door is to make sure the motor and other hardware can withstand the inevitable freezing and icing that comes with high winds and subzero temperatures.

Clear the area around the chicken coop. Predators, especially ground predators, are masters of hide and seek, and the closer they can get to the chicken coop without being seen, the more likely they are to view it as a safe and regular source of food. Winter, unfortunately, increases these opportunities several times over, between the fallen leaves, accumulating snowdrifts, and growing piles of firewood and unused equipment. Keeping these handy hiding spots far away from the coop and trimming back high grasses, low-to-the-ground bushes, and overhanging tree limbs will all help encourage prowling predators to seek food and shelter someplace else, far away from your hens.    

Maintain protection from above. Anyone with an outdoor run knows that hawks and other birds of prey are one of the biggest threats to homegrown chicken flocks, even in winter – while some species of raptor migrate, others do not. Fortunately, stringing some chicken wire or hardware mesh over the top of the run is usually more than enough to keep the swooping predators at bay. This remains true in the winter; however, harsher weather and heavier precipitation – snow, hail, freezing rain – means this high-strung chicken wire is one of the coop’s most vulnerable defenses. Owners should check its impregnability regularly, especially after a particularly heavy storm or other weather event.

Keep your coop clear of snow and ice. The annual battle against ice dams is a long, cold, exhausting one. However, chicken coops present another, smaller front in the war. After all, ice dams on the chicken coop present all the usual risks of warping and leaking, which is just as unpleasant for your chickens as it is for you, in addition to the question of that warping and weakening presenting the perfect holes to allow weasels, snakes, and other predators into the coop. These holes are especially troublesome in the winter, when the coop is more appealing to intruders, not only an all-you-can-eat buffet, but also a warm shelter from the harsh weather outside.

Clean up after your hens. Most predators will be dealing with a decrease in food sources in winter, which will make not only your hens, but their leftovers significantly more appealing to hungry predators, especially rats and other small creatures to whom some leftover chicken feed would be a significant boost in their diet. Making a pass at the end of the day, or at least every few days, to clean up any food scraps, feed piles, etc. lying around the coop and especially the run will go a long way in discouraging these foragers from making a habit of dinning at the Chicken Coop Market, which would inevitably escalate into stealing eggs and maybe even chicks.

There are many reasons winter presents a special challenge for chicken owners, from decreased egg production to the risk of frostbite. Unfortunately, predation is just one of these challenges, and one that doesn’t go away the rest of the year, either. The good news is that a little prevention goes a long way, and there’s no reason that, with a little foresight and a healthy vigilance, your entire flock of hens shouldn’t emerge in the spring, happy, healthy, and fully intact, ready to keep laying, playing, and living a happy hen life. 

Free-Ranging Your Chickens

Free-ranging your chickens can seem idyllic and peaceful. Watching them roam in the backyard, pecking at bugs, can be soothing. But in reality, there are some dangers to be aware of. Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart offers some tips for the care and feeding of your free range flock in this video.

 

Helpful tips:

  • Chickens will eat ticks as well as many other bugs that infest gardens
  • Free range makes chickens more vulnerable to predators, so be sure to place them in the coop at night
  • Egg Producer provides them a healthy balanced diet so they’ll continue to lay eggs