Healthy, profitable and disease-free poultry begins with the right pellet, the right nutrition and the right program to reduce risks of food-borne pathogens, according to speakers at the third annual Anitox International Animal Nutrition & Health Symposium held January 28 at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta.

The poultry digestive system is a "complex ecosystem" that requires a balanced state between digestive bacteria, says Dr. Steve Collett, associate professor at the Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center (PDRC), College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia.

"We've been on top of this with antibiotics," Collett adds. "But now … we need to manage the flora in the cecum (lower intestine) in other ways. We need to create a steady state."

Dr. Collett and Joseph Moritz, professor and state extension specialist at West Virginia University, spoke at the Anitox-sponsored event, a company that specializes in pathogen control in feed and feed ingredients.

"We organized the symposium to facilitate discussions on workable solutions to reduce pathogens on the farm," says Dr. Rick Phillips, DVM, president and CEO of Anitox. "Customers know that we understand their needs, and our strength is technical knowledge, particularly in feed technologies. Given recent and forthcoming changes in regulatory framework, we believe it's important to share knowledge and solutions to help customers reduce risk and improve profitability."

With the recent FDA ruling to phase out the use of antibiotics in the food production industry, producers need to look at other ways to control pathogens, the researchers said. One difficulty with managing pathogens in poultry, Dr. Collett says, is some pathogens exist naturally in the chicken's intestine, so the bacteria is colonizing, not invading, the gut. Ways to achieve a steady state include:


  • Seeding the gut with good microflora
  • Eliminating pathogens by reducing exposure through environmental management, including contaminated feed and feed ingredients

The correct nutrient ratio and absorption are keys to keeping a balanced state in the chicken's gut.

However, Moritz says few studies have looked at feed form and nutrient availability, even though feed quality has become an important topic over the past few years because of the high cost of feed ingredients.

"Poor quality pellets have been tolerated in the industry," he says. "We need to demonstrate the relationship between pellet quality, bird performance and overall economics."

Poor pellet quality also can exacerbate nutrient digestibility and production costs because of nutrient segregation between fines and pellets. This can be a particular problem when flock uniformity is important. In research studies through his lab at West Virginia University, Moritz measured the balance between pellet durability and nutrient conversion and how that balance varied depending upon production rate, size of the pellet die, temperature, formulation, and nutrient segregation.

"At times it becomes quite complicated to improve pellet quality and maintain high nutrient digestibility," Moritz says. "But we can get a nice economic benefit by producing a high-quality pellet as long as nutrient availability isn't compromised."