I had heard of probiotics before writing this article, just that they were in a lot of new yogurts I enjoy in the grocery store. Later I found that probiotics exist in all sorts of foods from grains to meat products. (Jim Core, Agricultural Research Service USDA)
When I found out they made probiotics for chickens, I became a bit confused and decided to look into the matter. It is a daunting subject with a lot of science, but I will try my best to make sense of it all.
Probiotics, Prebiotics and Pathogens:
Probiotics can be defined as live beneficial bacteria that promote the health and balance of the intestinal tract (that’s our guts, and chicken guts too). Prebiotics are the bits of nutrients and non-digestible foods that probiotics need to survive and thrive. Finally, pathogens are the nasty, bad bacteria that can invade and take over the intestinal tract causing damage to humans and animals alike.
Pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter cause food poisoning and damage the immune system and the efficiency of the gastrointestinal tract in converting food. Basically, they make animals (including humans) sick and stunt growth.
Competitive exclusion is a term used to describe the ability of probiotics to colonize the gut and compete against pathogens (ex. salmonella) thus preventing them from taking hold. So, I like to think of probiotics as a bouncer that keeps bad bacteria from getting into the club.
What Benefits Do Probiotics Offer?
- Improvements in Growth: Larger, stronger birds. Including increased bone and muscle growth.
- A Reduction in Mortality: Stronger immune system and naturally beneficial bacteria fighting off infectious pathogens.
- Improvement in Feed Conversion Efficiency: Probiotics aid digestion, absorbing more nutrients from feed.
-Kabir, The Role of Probiotics in the Poultry Industry. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2009
From Big Poultry to Backyard Poultry:
Probiotics sound great, but they are only just now being used by large poultry egg layer and broiler commercial facilities. What does that mean for me and my 5 hens in the backyard?
Good news, there are probiotics available to individual consumers like you and me. Products like Sav-A-Chick Probiotics, Backyard Chicken Health Pack, Super Spur, and Poultry Pro Vita are all available for your every day person’s use.
Our chickens don’t receive the kind of stress and nutritional deficiencies that commercial fowl live with, but in my opinion probiotics are a safe bet for any backyard chicken owner, plus if it makes my chickens healthy and strong it makes me happy.