For decades, broiler producers have tended to use high-density diets to feed their stocks and seek the highest possible profitability. But, with increasing feed prices, the entire production process is searching for alternatives to conventional feeding programs based on high-nutrient poultry diets to increase profitability.
With conventional nutrition, producers tend to make use of least-cost feed formulations, which have served for a long time as powerful solutions to optimize high feed prices. But, formulating broiler diets by the least-cost tool is not as easy as in ruminants because of the differences in the availability of raw materials for poultry and ruminants.
There are some programs that can target lower feed cost in an effective way, but unfortunately most of these programs fail to keep the balance between lower feed cost and acceptable performance. One solution for everyone in the production process may be found in phytogenics.
The power of any feed additive is judged by its potential to improve the utilization of protein, amino acids and energy. Unfortunately, there is no linearity between digestibility and the density of the feed, which means that we may offer a very rich diet but with low digestibility. Nutrient digestibility or utilization depends on many factors. For example, the microbial status of the gastrointestinal tract or existence of bacterial challenge, as well as nutrients' source and their accessibility to the animal for absorption.
By controlling gut microflora, phytogenic feed additives have great potential to improve nutrient digestibility. With the addition of phytogenics, essential oils can limit the growth of the pathogenic bacteria in the gut, hence lowering the competition for nutrients between bacteria and their host, so that more nutrients are available for absorption.
Phytogenics are environmentally-friendly
It is a big challenge to supply the market with safe products (natural or antibiotic-free products) that meet customer satisfaction, are beneficial for animal health, environmentally friendly and of good economic value. In terms of the environment, animal production is accused of being a key culprit of greenhouse gases emissions. Some aberrant views have called for limiting animal production while ignoring the increasing demand for animal products, which is set to double in 2050.
Therefore, nutrient sparing could be a powerful solution to limit emissions because decreasing one unit of protein may decrease greenhouse gases by 10 percent. As they are natural compounds extracted from plants, phytogenics are safe for animal and human consumption. Phytogenic feed additives have proven beneficial effects in terms of improved performance through better feed conversion. Furthermore, phytogenic feed additives work to decrease ammonia emissions through improving protein utilization and hence decreasing the loss of nitrogen in the manure.
Positive health impact
Due to the high genetic potential of modern broiler strains, such birds tend to be susceptible to any decrease in protein and energy levels. In addition to their efficacy in improving productive performance, phytogenics can be used to decrease the risk in feed formulation due to improper mixing, variation in nutrient composition within feedstuffs or inadequate ingredients. This effect is very significant because manufacturing errors are quite difficult to observe and can cause severe loss in productivity and, hence, profitability.
Many studies have proven that phytogenic feed additives have positive impacts on different health parameters, where feeding birds such compounds has led to lower microbial content in the digestive tract, lower levels of toxins and ammonia production, improved immunity and lower mortality.
Problems with high-density feeds
There is a positive correlation between metabolic diseases and high-density feed. It has been shown that sudden death syndrome and ascites can be controlled via feed optimization. Furthermore, chronic stress can be induced by high nutrient feed that increases birds’ metabolic rate. This can be avoided by offering low-density diets.
The target behind the combination of nutrient-sparing and phytogenic feed additives is to pool their advantages with a modern feeding program that can meet modern broiler performance and, at the same time, limit the effects of high feed prices.
Impact of phytogenics in the diet
To investigate the growth compensating effect of phytogenics and also the impact of down specification of diets with or without a commercial phytogenic product, an experiment at Novi Sad University was performed where birds were assigned into four treatment groups as shown in Table 1.
Figure 1 shows that offering the low-density diet resulted in about 2 percent reduction in live body weight, while the phytogenic product showed a clear compensation effect as group four had exactly the same live body weight as the control group. Surprisingly, the feed conversion ratio of the fourth group (reformulated with the feed additive) was the lowest among all groups (Figure 2), which proves the efficacy of phytogenics as digestibility enhancers.
The results obtained revealed that lowering nutrients in the feed had a negative impact on body weight and feed conversion ratio, which seems logical because of the high nutritional requirements of broiler chickens. On the other hand, the nutrient-sparing effect of the phytogenic feed additive was clearly shown to recover live body weight and lower the feed conversion ratio.
Now, one must go beyond the traditional thinking to new horizons in animal nutrition where we will find different scenarios. The first scenario represents the standard feeding program resulting in standard performance. In the second scenario, the same level of performance is achieved by reformulating the diet using phytogenic feed additives. Finally, according to the third scenario, re-formulation of the diet with phytogenic feed additives provides an increased level of performance while maintaining feed cost (Figure 3). Choosing the right scenario depends on the actual targets of producers.
The fundamental question here is, “Do conventional feeding programs serve modern broiler production?” In response, it appears that the combination of nutrient-sparing tools, together with phytogenic feed additives, is a sustainable and safe solution that both reduces feed cost while maintaining desired performance.