Chickens fed a standard feed diet supplemented with a probiotic had improved weight gain and a lower death rate. It is hoped that this supplementation with a probiotic may help curtail the growth of foodborne pathogens in poultry-derived foods.
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The demand for antibiotic-free poultry is growing in the U.S., with sales of probiotic-fed chicken products increasing. The industry continues also to lessen the number of weeks required to raise a market-weight chicken, with that time now about 6 weeks. That represents a marked reduction in time over the past several decades, according to the National Chicken Council, which has been tracking U.S. broiler performance since 1925.
Research is underway by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and the University of Arkansas to investigate whether probiotics can help reduce foodborne pathogens, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, in poultry. The investigators hope to identify natural non-antibiotic treatments to improve gut health in chickens, which would enhance the microbiological safety of poultry-derived foods.
According to researchers at Oklahoma State University Poultry Research Unit, previous studies in chickens have found that probiotics can help alleviate production losses when antibiotics are not used by poultry farmers. “Direct-fed microbials encourage healthy gut development, decrease disease-causing microbes in the digestive system and improve broiler performance,” they said in a recent issue of Cowpoke, a publication from the Department of Animal Science at Oklahoma State University.
The researchers at Oklahoma State compared the performance data of 300 broiler chickens raised on diets supplemented by four different preparations of probiotics. The probiotics were selected for their high production of exoenzymes. Hard wheat, flour, and water were fermented to enrich the microorganism’s spores.
Patricia Rayas, PhD, food and agricultural processing cereal chemist at the university, says the team’s hypothesis was that probiotics “would improve the community of microbes in the gut of the broiler” and help defend the immune system from unwanted bacteria. The research team is now working with the university’s technology development center to patent mixtures of probiotic strains for particular uses. A next plan for research is focused on using a spore-based probiotic that “supports the balance of the micro-ecology by stimulating the colonization of beneficial bacteria,” Dr. Rayas explains. “This will improve the broilers’ intestinal health and enhance growth performance. In the future we hope to create a mixture so the industry can maintain a healthier intestine for the chickens.”