The Chicken Digestive System and Immune System: An Important Partnership

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC 

How are your chickens’ diet and their overall health connected?

Overview of Immune System

As humans, we rely on our immune systems every day to protect us from viruses, bacteria, toxins, and fungi. When this network of organs, cells, and proteins defeats a threat to our body, it makes a record of how to defend against the invader. The next time the body is faced with this particular attacker, the immune system can defeat it swiftly and efficiently.  

The chicken’s immune system functions in a similar way. It is also complex. Its main defenses are lymphoid organs, which produce, store, and carry cells that fight infection. The primary lymphoid organs in a chicken are the thymus and the bursa of Fabricius:

    • Thymus: This series of lymphatic lobes runs almost the whole length of the neck. It is similar to the thymus in humans.
    • Bursa of Fabricius: This organ is unique to birds and is located on top of the rectum. It forms a kind of pocket (the word bursa means “purse”) that contains folds of lymphoid tissue.

These two organs produce immune cells: the thymus produces T-cells and the bursa of Fabricius produces B-cells. These immune cells migrate to other areas in the body, including the Harderian gland, spleen, and bone marrow. However, more than 60% of these immune cells migrate to and reside in the various places in the digestive tract, including the cecal tonsils and Peyer’s patches. From these locations, they defend the body against invaders.  

In addition to hosting immune cells, the digestive system also contains other important components that support the chicken’s immune system. Beneficial microflora (bacteria and yeast) live in throughout the digestive tract. They provide important services, such as protecting the walls of the intestine from colonization by harmful bacteria. Scientists also think that the friendly microflora help keep the bird’s body on high alert for disease-causing organisms.

So, the immune system of a chicken includes both immune cells and beneficial microflora that are located in the digestive tract.

Benefits of a Diet That Supports the Immune System

You can help keep your chickens healthy by providing a high-quality, commercially formulated feed containing elements that are necessary for gut health. These include probiotics, prebiotics, yeast culture, and essential oils. These ingredients populate the gut with good microflora and can boost the immune system. Studies have shown that feeds formulated to boost the immune and digestive systems can result in better health and quality of life and improved egg production and quality. In addition, healthy chickens are less likely to harbor harmful bacteria in their reproductive tract, meaning safer eggs for you.

Finally, a diet that supports the immune system can increase absorption of nutrients from food by increasing the surface area of the intestine, meaning your birds will use their feed more efficiently. It also aids in digestion of calcium, which is important for strong eggshells and healthy bones.

In short, a chicken with a diet that supports a healthy immune system is a chicken that is both happy and productive, living her best life.

Support Your Chickens’ Immune Systems

Nutrena® NatureWise® Poultry feeds with FlockShield® and essential oils are specially formulated to support both the digestive system and the immune system for birds at every stage of life. They contain probiotics, prebiotics, yeast cultures, and essential oils that contribute to gut and immune system health. Choosing Nutrena NatureWise with Flockshield will help your birds live their best lives by improving their health, digestion, and productivity.

Backyard Poultry Biosecurity In 6 Steps

Backyard Poultry Biosecurity? What exactly is it? As a poultry owner, you know how important it is to keep your birds healthy.

By practicing biosecurity, you can help reduce the chances of your birds being exposed to animal diseases such as avian influenza (AI) or exotic Newcastle disease (END).

“Biosecurity” may not be a common household word. But, for poultry and bird owners it can spell the difference between health and disease.

Practicing biosecurity can help keep disease away from your farm, and keep your birds healthy.

Backyard Poultry Biosecurity

Recommendations provided by the USDA, for more information on this and other topics, visit www.ahls.usda.gov/.

Pecking order and water care, what do they have in common?

In any flock of chickens, there is a pecking order, ALPHA on the top, Omega on the bottom, and everyone in between. Basic flock psychology, is the flock is only as strong as the weakest member. We see this initially with baby chicks, if there is a weak chick, the rest of the flock will eliminate it from the gene pool. “Vote her off the island”, so to speak.

They may do this as adults as well, there may be a bird that they sense needs to be eliminated from the gene pool. This may be a healthy, egg producing hen. One of the ways they do this is to not allow the hen in question to drink. In hot weather they expire pretty quickly. I get phone calls from customers every summer, after the birds were posted, in most cases they died of dehydration. Adding a few extra water stations can easily prevent this, by allowing more options for birds to drink from. This simple step can be the key to keeping the entire flock healthy.