In young broilers, it is important to establish a healthy microbiota as soon as possible.
In a recent conversation, a few feed professionals questioned the use of probiotics and prebiotics in broilers.
They reasoned that, because the commercial lifespan of these birds is so short, these additives do not have enough time to act. When pressed to reason their position, they all referred to the famous 14-day period advertised for human supplements of the same products. Who has not seen the relevant advertisements on TV? But, this is for adults with an established microbiota. So, is it valid for young animals? Let’s take it from the beginning.
Newly hatched chicks start picking up from their immediate environment – first from the incubating facilities, then the transport boxes, the litter upon placements, and finally the feed and water they consume. So, they are not hatched with an already formed microbiota profile.
In fact, during the first week, Enterobacteriaceae predominate. Then, by the end of the second week, these have been gradually replaced by Gram-positive Firmicutes and Actinobacteria (lacto and bifidus bacteria being widely known beneficial ones, respectively). During this time, there is fierce competition from any invading pathogenic bacteria, while gut health hangs in the balance. If the beneficial bacteria win the population race, then gut health is secured; if not, disease ensues. This is why antibiotic removal has caused so much damage in terms of gut health control.
This battle between good and evil continues strong until 14 days post-hatch. Beyond this point, it is rather difficult to influence the microbiota profile. Before that, it is clear that it is not only easier but also to our benefit if we do it correctly. Thus, anything that can be done early to help establish a healthy microbiota has to be done before the 14th day post-hatch.
Seen from another perspective, if pathogenic bacteria need only hours to take over a healthy gut, let alone an immature and developing one, and if antibiotics start working almost immediately, then why do we need 14 days to influence beneficial microbiota? In my opinion, it is this early period that probiotics and prebiotics are needed the most, not the least. Now, if we do not use the right products, and because of that, we do not see any benefits, then this is another discussion. But, isn’t it interesting that in young and adult organisms, it takes 14 days either way? Only in young animals, we better be early than sorry.