Probiotics In High-Producing Layers

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Article | 16.06.2023
Much of the work carried out with probiotics in the poultry industry has focused on applications in broilers. This is not very surprising as setting up trials in animals with a short production cycle can be done quite cost-effectively.

Simultaneously, it is straightforward to understand why supporting the gut health of rapidly growing animals is important, as their digestive system is running overtime and thus needs all the support it can get. 

Coupled with specific uses of certain probiotics, such as Clostridium perfringens and mitigation by certain strains of Bacillus licheniformis, the value proposition of probiotics in broilers is clear. 

Unfortunately, the focus on developing feed additives for broilers has also translated into a limited number of options for producers of other types of poultry. In Europe for example, there are only a handful of probiotics registered for use in laying hens during egg production. However, the application of probiotics in layers should not be neglected: high-producing laying hens also need to be as efficient as possible, which includes utilising their diet to the fullest while withstanding health challenges. From that perspective, the importance of a proper functioning gastrointestinal tract cannot be underestimated, indicating the value which probiotic supplementation can bring to a layer operation. 

One of the more recent additions to EU-registered layer probiotics is B-Act®, a probiotic based on a single strain of spore-forming Bacillus licheniformis (DSM 28710). This probiotic already has a long and extensive history in animal production, supporting high-performing animals during all stages of production. Recent research has shown the unique B. licheniformis strain's benefits in layers, resulting in zootechnical feed additive registration in the EU. 

The probiotic's mode of action is based on the principle of competitive exclusion, including outcompeting undesirable bacteria in terms of nutrients and space, as well as producing potent antimicrobial metabolites with a strong affinity for undesirable bacteria such as Clostridium perfringens. As a result, the composition and balance of the gut microbiota is positively impacted, while gut integrity is maintained. By incorporating B-Act® in the diet from start to finish, it is possible to mitigate gut health challenges during production. As a result, the animal's gut health is supported which translates to improved feed utilisation, thereby reducing secondary issues such as wet litter, foot pad lesions and dirty eggs.

The above has been confirmed in recent work by Ceylan et al. (2022). Lohmann Brown layers were supplemented with B-Act® between 25 and 45 weeks of age and compared to a control group fed a standard commercial diet. Body weight, feed conversion ratio (FCR), egg mass and the ratio of cracked and dirty eggs were recorded per pen. Additional egg quality parameters were evaluated in 4-week intervals for each pen using four representative eggs, looking at shell weight, shell thickness and shell breaking strength. Protein levels in the dry manure were recorded at the start and at the end of the experiment as an indication of how well the animal was using the supplemented diets.

Adding B-Act® to the diet of these high-performing layers significantly improved FCR and egg mass (Figure 1; < 0.05) as well as shell percentage. The improvements in the latter parameter could offer an explanation as to why almost all other eggshell qualities improved numerically as well as for the probiotic group (lower percentage of cracked / dirty eggs and higher shell breaking strength). At the same time, significantly less protein was excreted in the dry manure by the B-Act® group compared to the control group. This can be interpreted as better functioning of the gastrointestinal tract, thus utilising the nutrients provided by the diet as much as possible, in turn leading to the improved FCR and egg parameters. 

Figure 1. Technical performance during week 25 to 45 for the control and B-Act® groups. Different superscripts indicate statistically significant differences (p < 0.05)

Despite the clear benefits as shown above, probiotic inclusion in feed formulations has come under presure lately due to ever increasing feed prices. Luckily, certain probiotics can also be added to the drinking water. A flexible water-soluble formulation allows the probiotic to be applied only in specific periods. This does require adding a product to an already complex system and should be done with great care: water quality and management have a huge influence on animal performance, making the continuous availability of high-quality water paramount. Therefore, the probiotic formulation should be carefully adapted taking this into account - including the amount and type of carrier used.

With this in mind, B-Act® Buzz was developed as the newest member of the Huvepharma probiotic range. The formulation is based on the same unique B. licheniformis strain as in other B-Act® products but presented as an effervescent tablet. Each tablet weighs only 50 grams, with adapted carriers for use in drinking water. This way, a minimal amount of carrier material is added to the water system, while still ensuring the efficient delivery of the probiotic. The tablet's effervescence also translates into a greater ease of use compared to traditional powder products as it requires minimal stirring and distributes the probiotic spores homogenously throughout the water column. B-Act® Buzz thus efficiently combines the highest water quality standards with practical on-farm efficacy, in an easy-to-use tablet. 

From the peer-reviewed research, it is clear that probiotics have a place in layer nutrition, as these high-performing animals should be supported from start to finish. With an attractive return on investment, the supporting research about its benefits in layers and the flexibility of application options, B-Act® offers a solution to combine a financial return with health standards in the most rewarding way.


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