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.
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.
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.
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:
- Dandelion greens
- Wheat bran
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.