Supporting poultry gut health with essential oils

Essential oil technology can help poultry producers facing challenges involving new regulations regarding the use of antibiotics and increasing consumer demand for products raised without antibiotics.

Industry Voice by Provimi

December 24, 2016

5 Min Read
Supporting poultry gut health with essential oils

Supporting poultry gut health with essential oils

Poultry producers are facing new regulations regarding the use of antibiotics and increasing consumer demand for products from poultry raised without antibiotics, while still needing to produce more high quality protein at a faster rate. Also due to consumer preference, many restaurants and supermarket enterprises, including some of the largest chains in the US, are calling on their suppliers to provide products from birds raised without antibiotics.  For decades, producers have used antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) to improve overall performance and reduce production disruptions caused by multiple factors, including sub-clinical infections and unknown pathogens.  However, the restrictions on in-feed use of some antibiotics have reduced the number of products available.  One way to address the challenges of reduced antibiotic use or total removal of antibiotics from a system is through application of essential oil technology.  

The ultimate goal of poultry farmers is to achieve uniform growth and healthy bird performance in a sustainable, profitable way. Robust performance throughout the lifecycle is critical, not only to get broilers to market quicker, but also to ensure their livability. Developing a favorable relationship between the gut microbiota and a chick from the outset is particularly important. Poultry flocks reared under practical conditions have to cope with stress factors that have the potential to compromise bird health. Feed transitions, changes in environmental conditions, mycotoxins in raw materials, and adverse reactions to vaccinations can all lead to sub-optimal performance. The development of a healthy gut can be a challenge in commercial environments; however, it is critical because harmful bacteria in the litter can rapidly multiply in the young bird’s gut and impact its health and welfare.  

Within two to three weeks, depending on nutrition and brooding conditions, the typical adult broiler’s small intestinal microbiota should be well established. The challenge is achieving strong growth performance as quickly as possible by maximizing nutrient output.

Gap between genetic potential and commercial performance

Regardless of whether AGPs are being used or not, there is often a gap between observed commercial performance and the animals’ genetic potential. This gap limits the profitability of livestock operations and is often directly or indirectly related to gut health challenges.  

A solution that will balance the bird’s microbiota by preventing the proliferation of harmful bacteria and encouraging beneficial microbial growth, while also compensating for reduced performance from the removal of AGPs is needed.  However, the greatest impact on digestive health will not be achieved unless we consider all the roles of the gut. Research has shown that supporting the gut may allow the animal to deal more efficiently with pathogens and environmental challenges.  A healthy gut may also spare nutrients that would otherwise be consumed by the onset of unwanted immune responses. Any breach in the integrity of the gut could have consequences on the animal’s health status. 

Essential oils

Over the last several years, Cargill has carried out over 75 in vitro and in vivo trials to establish non-medicated alternatives to AGPs that will support healthy growth and general gut health.  This research showed that selected blends of essential oils had the most comprehensive effect on overall digestive health. While additives like direct fed microbials provided some benefit to the four key functionalities of the gut (Figure 1), essential oil blends exhibited the broadest range of benefits, including antimicrobial and antioxidant activity.


Figure 1. Gut functions and key objectives of a digestive health support program

The same research showed that application of essential oils resulted in positive modulation of the bacterial population and support of digestive functions. We also discovered that, in some situations, combining essential oils with organic acids provided greater support for healthy performance than if the components were applied individually.  One hypothesis is that essential oils make the organic acids more absorbent, which results in a more effective reduction of bacterial proliferation.  

We combined these results with technology to prevent the loss of the volatile essential oils into one innovative Promote® additive product, Biacid™.  Biacid™ contains a proprietary mixture of carefully selected, high quality essential oils and organic acids. The product works by stimulating the chickens’ digestive functions and by supporting gut microbiota balance.  Evidence shows our solution helps support weight gain and feed conversion ratio (FCR) without AGPs, improving profitability. In fact, across 18 broiler studies conducted around the globe, in a range of test conditions, Biacid™ was shown to improve body weight gain by more than 2.5% and FCR by more than 2% (Figure 2).

Figure 2.  Composite of 18 studies conducted around the globe that shows a 2.5% improvement in body weight gain and 2% reduction in FCR.

Biacid™ also provides benefits when used in combination with in-feed antibiotics.  This features allows Biacid™ to provide support for birds when antibiotics are needed intermittently during production challenges.  The complementary components of organic acids and essential oil products, such as Biacid™, target the needs of different production systems, making them very flexible options to support healthy bird performance. Armed with the research with broilers, nutritionists and producers have seen similar benefits in the field when Biacid™ is fed to turkeys.

Promote® additives, including Biacid™, are part of the nutrition solutions provided by Cargill, Provimi, and Citura.     

Promote® is a dependable line of feed additives serving the livestock and poultry industries. Contact your Cargill, Provimi, or Citura salesperson for more information on Promote® additives or call our Promote® Customer Service representatives at 866-202-9889.  


Colleen Fowler

Promote Product Line Manager

[email protected]

Subscribe to Our Newsletters
Feedstuffs is the news source for animal agriculture

You May Also Like