Microbiota plays major role in long-term animal health

On the eve of Eurotier, speakers at Nukamel’s Intestinal Health roadshow focused on the importance of developing animal immunity and gut health early in life to ensure its long-term performance.

On the eve of Eurotier, speakers at Nukamel’s Intestinal Health roadshow focused on the importance of developing animal immunity and gut health early in life to ensure its long-term performance.

Regardless of species, there are many environmental and physiological influencing an animal’s ability to fight off disease; however, specialized feeding solutions can pay off in strengthening its immunity to pathogens and ultimately increasing its output. 

Early microbiota cultivation supports immunity

Microbiota prevents the penetration of pathogens under the epithelial layer of the gut; it also aids in producing the preferred and appropriate immune response. The panel of four researchers from Europe and the United States agreed that the manipulation of the gut’s microbial composition during the first days of life will produce either beneficial or detrimental outcomes for the animal further down the road. 

For example, if antibiotics are introduced too early, it will have a negative effect on the development of the microbiota well beyond initial the exposure. According to Dr. Robert Corbett, president of Dairy Health Consultation, the microflora of young animals exposed to antibiotics takes longer to replenish and actually delays the animal’s recovery.

Similarly, the swine industry has neglected to pay attention to the critical pre-weaning stage to develop the strength of a piglet’s digestive tract.

“The gut is very complex and serves a variety of functions,” says Dr. Alfons Jansman, senior scientist – animal nutrition, Wageningen UR Livestock Research. “We need more fundamental knowledge of these systems and should shape intestinal microbiota and microflora prior to weaning in suckling piglets – which would be new way of thinking.”

In Jansman’s opinion, producers must support the various aspect of the immune system, such as its barrier function to prevent allergic reactions and other inclement conditions, suggesting that producers not downgrade the importance of immunity to improve FCR and growth. 

As such, the immune system must be ready to react if needed, so “it’s important to improve the nutrition status of the animal and meet its requirements in volume and nutrient composition.” 

Leaky gut poses major challenge

According to Professor Richard Ducatelle from the University of Ghent, today’s animals have the genetic capacity to achieve a high-level of performance, but “the challenge lies with nutrition, which needs to catch up and to get the best out of the animals.” 

This can be achieved with a diet that meets the animal’s demands, but this strategy can backfire if the animal is ill. Leaky gut, for example, will be one of the biggest challenges for poultry producers in the years to come.

Leaky gut, a condition where body fluids leak into lumen and make feces more liquid, “must be avoided by all means.”

“The thickness of the intestinal wall is determined by thickness of intestinal layer,” he says. “It should be thick because the mucosa should have a contractual power – if it’s weak, digestion is less effective. There are more immune cells in the gut than any other portion of the body. Immune suppression or immune stimulation is a controversial topic.”

In his opinion, the nutritionist should aim to move from a reactive position — from a state of defense to one of absorption — by improving the animal’s oral tolerance through proper nutrition.

Additives influence health

Antioxidants play an important role in reducing inflammation, which is one of the leading causes of death in animals.

“We can help the animal though nutrients, but also by giving it anti-oxidative power,” Ducatelle suggests.

Depending on the maturation of the mucosa, overdosing organic acids can have a detrimental effect on the intestinal health of a young animal. In addition, high-quality colostrum also affects an animal’s gene expression and plays an important role in building the health of young animals.

“Environment and nutrition play an important role in how the animal develops, but there are other influences which influence its genetic disposition for disease,” Jansman notes, pointing to gut health as the source of prolonged health and performance. 

According to Nukamel’s managing director Jan Druyts, the proper nutrition of young animals favors a gradual building up of the microbial population of the gut: “In commercial husbandry, animals are fed intensively and perform at the maximum of their potential. The balance between oral tolerance and immune stimulation – and overstimulation – is of utmost importance. The base for this is established in the gut in the early stages of life; therefore, investing in high-quality feeding of young animals pays off in the later stages of life.”

Hanover was the third and final stop on Nukamel’s Intestinal Health World Tour. Two additional events, one on Chile and the other in Bangkok, were held earlier this year. 2014 marks the company’s 60th anniversary. 

Eurotier will be held in Hanover, Germany, on November 11-14.

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