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Intestinal Microbiota Balance

About Intestinal Microbiota in Production Animals

Intestinal microbiota is one of three holistic gears to ensuring the intestinal health of production animals like poultry and swine. The intestinal health of production animals are critical to obtaining their optimum genetic potential because the healthier the intestine, the better the ability to digest food and absorb nutrients.

In order to fully realise the fundamental role intestinal microbiota plays within the greater picture of intestinal health management, we first need to understand exactly what intestinal microbiota is and how it can be developed and maintained.

What is Intestinal Microbiota?

All animals live in harmony with a large population of microorganisms that reside on their skin, inside the reproductive, respiratory and gastric intestinal tracts. Each of these environments are referred to as a microbiome and their microorganisms are called microbiota. The largest microbiome can be found in the intestine.

Nonspecific immunomodulation

The number of microorganisms living in the intestine of animals out numbers the cells in the animal’s body by 10 to 1 comprising of more than 900 different species of bacteria. Different parts of the intestinal tract are hosts to different species and diversity of bacteria. The highest diversity of bacterial species is found in the colon and the lowest diversity is found in the stomach. Lactobacillus bacteria is the dominant species in the small intestine (duodenum, jejunum and ileum) and Clostridia is the dominant bacterial species in the large intestine (caecum and colon).

The intestinal microbiota includes both commensal bacteria (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) and potentially pathogenic bacteria (Salmonella, E. coli and Clostridium perfringens).

The health of an animal’s intestinal microbiota depends on the ability to:

  • maintain the diversity of the species of microbiota that reside in the different parts of the body; and
  • ensure the separation of the various microbiota populations in their respective microbiomes.

At birth the intestines of all animals are sterile. The microorganism that populate the intestine are picked up from other animals as well as the environment. A day-old chick (DOC) does not have contact with the hen and will therefore not receive any microbiota from the hen. The DOC will however pick up microbiota from the environment, egg shell, hatchery and poultry house. In pigs, the bacteria that form the basis of the piglet’s microbiome are derived from the birth canal of the sow as well as from the sow’s faeces and the environment of the farrowing house.

The intestine of DOCs rapidly colonise. By 2 weeks a stable intestinal microbiome would have developed and by 30 days a stable ceacal intestinal microbiome would be fuctional. However, the presence of pathogenic bacteria (Salmonella, E. coli and Clostridium perfringens) in the farrowing house and poultry house can have a negative impact on the development of a healthy intestinal microbiome.

A healthy, balanced intestinal microbiome provides a physical barrier against intestinal pathogen colonisation. It results in the competitive exclusion of pathogenic bacteria and production of antibacterial substances such as short chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids inhibit intestinal pathogen growth and stimulate the development of intestinal immunity. Intestinal microbiota also contributes to the metabolism of nitrogen and dietary protein, which provides further amino acids for egg production, maintenance and growth. Intestinal microbiota in poultry may also produce additional vitamins, especially B vitamins.

A balanced Intestinal Microbiota in production animals:

  • improves host nutrition and growth;
  • reduces intestinal pathogen colonisation;
  • helps with the development of the intestinal enterocytes and intestinal barrier function; and
  • aids in the development of intestinal immunity.

Poultry requires 2 to 4 weeks to establish a stable intestinal microbiome. In the meanwhile there is enough time for pathogenic bacteria to colonise the intestine and cause bacterial enteritis and negatively affect the health of the animal. This highlights the importance of the early establishment of a healthy, balanced intestinal microbiome. Modern production animals are placed under pressure to grow quickly, which places strain on their immune systems. This can lead to a disruption of the intestinal microbiota resulting in a dramatic proliferation of enteric pathogens, Clostridium perfringens and E. coli, leading to the development of bacterial enteritis and necrotic enteritis. All of the above will have a severe negative impact on the health and production potential of pigs and poultry. The early establishment and maintenance of the intestinal microbiota to suppress the proliferation of enteric pathogens, Clostridium perfringens and E. coli, is therefore vital to maintaining the health and productivity of production animals.

The success of the livestock industry relies heavily on the effectiveness of feed conversion. Because feed is a large factor in production costs (up to 70 percent), poor feed efficiency translates into significant economic losses. Mortality rates, decreased weight gain, increased time to slaughter, condemnations at slaughter, lowered fertility and preventative treatments associated with diseases contribute to economic losses.

Livestock performance and poultry production can be optimised by managing the intestinal microbiota to prevent infections and promote animal health.