Did you know that a high-quality chicken feed includes more than just grains, vitamins, and minerals? While these ingredients are necessary, they're only part of the diet that helps your birds live their best life. Quality, higher-technology feeds also include beneficial microflora -- gut-friendly organisms such as bacteria and yeast that populate the chick's digestive systems, aid in digestion, and strengthen the bird's immune system.
In this post, we'll take a look at some of these added feed components that contribute to a chicken’s digestive health. That way, you'll have a better idea what to look for when you're selecting feed for your flock.
The next time you look at a feed label, check for the words "yeast culture." This additive, also called fermentation metabolites, is composed of compounds produced by fermentation of dietary yeast, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae. When fermented inside a chicken’s gut, yeast culture does several important things:
- It supports the immune system and gut microflora.
- It contributes to the strength and overall health of intestinal tissues.
- It produces compounds that latch on to bad bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella and prevents them from attaching to the cells of the digestive tract.
Another fungal product involves the fermentation of Trichoderma reesei. 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 probably seen probiotic products 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% of the bacteria in a chicken’s digestive tract are Lactobacillus strains that support the existence of beneficial bacteria and help protect against bad bacteria.
Here are some common probiotics you might find on feed labels:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: Helps ferment carbohydrates, produces chemicals that support growth, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
- Lactobacillus casei: Helps ferment carbohydrates, reduces colonization of bad bacteria, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
- Bifidobacterium thermophilum: Helps ferment carbohydrates, boosts immune system
- Enterococcus faecium: 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 help prevent or cure diarrhea.
As the prefix suggests, prebiotics pave the way for those probiotics we just discussed to do their job. Prebiotics serve as food for good bacteria, supporting the chicken's growth and strengthening its resistance to bad bacteria. When fermented by a chicken’s body, prebiotics also 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.
Here are some examples of prebiotics that might appear on a feed label (or which you can use to supplement your chickens' diet):
- Dandelion greens
- Wheat bran
While technically not a prebiotic, yeast culture has properties that can be included in the prebiotic category as well. 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 Feed Label
The next time you buy feed, pay close attention to the label. 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.
Probiotics such as the Lactobacillus strains listed above will be found in the Guaranteed Analysis section. Fungal products like yeast culture will appear in the Ingredients section only.
If your chickens' digestive health is important to you, then the next time you choose a commercially formulated feed, remember to look for yeast culture, prebiotics, and probiotics on the label. These important ingredients will give your chickens some extra love and help them live their best lives.
And don't forget that our knowledgeable staff is here to help! Feel free to call or stop by one of our stores anytime. We'll be happy to point you toward just the right nutritional products for your flock.