The importance of good gut health

Producers are looking for ways to improve efficiency of their businesses, especially with prices being squeezed. Egg numbers and shell quality are important factors to keep an eye on and as we increase the laying cycle, we must make sure bird gut health is at its optimum to support efficient production.

By HARRIET SMITH 07711 780858

chicken health

Egg shell quality

Good shell quality is obviously key to maintaining a low number of seconds and therefore a good egg cheque! However, a thick shell does not necessarily mean it is a strong shell. It is the structure of the shell that is more important. All the minerals required to form a good quality shell are supplied through the feed and these are then digested and absorbed in the small intestine. It is often assumed that increasing the amount of calcium in the diet will automatically lead to stronger shells, however this is not always the case. When calcium passes through the gut it interacts with other minerals, reducing their absorption and potentially causing a direct impact on the structure of the egg shell.

If calcium levels are too high, this can cause the gut to become too alkaline. This will neutralise the acids produced during digestion. If the digestion of proteins is impaired, proteins can pass into the small intestine which will then cause bacteria to ferment. This can be seen as frothy or abnormal droppings.

Healthy gut in birds

A healthy gut is imperative so that the bird can uptake the minerals in the feed effectively. Between 50–80% of the immune system functions through the gut. As a result of this high immune presence, it is easy for the bird to respond to actual challenges and things underlying. An immune response in the gut will usually produce and additional mucous layer through inflammation. This mucous provides an extra barrier for minerals to be absorbed, meaning that absorption of these vital ingredients in the feed is being compromised. Therefore, an inflammatory response results in the bird not receiving its full mineral requirement and directly effecting egg shell strength and quality.

Ideally the bird should have a balanced microbiome in the gut, meaning that the microbial population in the gut is balanced correctly.

This will help to modulate the immune system, reducing the occurrence of inflammation which could be affecting absorption. As a result, this will help towards improving shell quality.

Improving gut health of hens will enable them to absorb a greater proportion of their feed, meaning less is going to waste. If the bird is not able to absorb nutrients effectively, her egg production and shell quality will suffer.

healthy chickens