Waste product could replace antibiotics in layer hens

Researchers at the University of New England in Australia are studying the effects of a prebiotic made from waste products from milling on the gut health of egg-laying hens.

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hurricanehank | BigStock.com
hurricanehank | BigStock.com

Researchers at the University of New England in Australia are studying the effects of a prebiotic made from waste products from milling on the gut health of egg-laying hens.

Commercially raised poultry feed traditionally contains enzymes that helps the birds better digest and break down the long-chain sugars found in grain into more desirable forms, such as xylo-oligosaccharides, also known as XOS.

The pilot project will examine the effects of XOS when it is added directly to feed, as opposed to relying on the birds to make it themselves.

XOS is a prebiotic that can also help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Another benefit is that XOS is extracted from the waste products that are derived during the grain milling process, which makes it relatively inexpensive.

“I'm working on prebiotics, mainly trying to make them from waste products in starch milling,” explained Dr. Natalie Morgan, a poultry nutritionist at the University of New England, noting that the industry is always looking for less expensive ways to find grain for poultry production.

Better benefits in layers

XOS has already been studied in broilers, where the prebiotic significantly improved both gut health and production. 

“What we've seen in broilers is that it fuels the good microbiota, which means the good ones can flourish and the pathogenic bacteria can’t,” Morgan said. “We’re hoping that in laying hens, we’ll see more of a response because they live for longer and they’ve got a more mature microbiota, so it’s all about priming their microbiota so it can better use the fiber in their diets.”

The longer lives of layer hens could further amplify the positive effects of the prebiotic, boosting feed conversion and productivity and possibly even replacing the need for antibiotics in some cases, she added.

The eight-week project – scheduled to begin in April 2021 – is funded by a $22,000 Australian Eggs Award in the 2021 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

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