Cargill researchers are focusing on improving gut health in poultry to promote feed efficiency and keep birds healthy. Cargill has been researching the use of non-medicated feed additives for several years as an alternative to antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs). As an independent supplier, Cargill has performed cross-additive research and determined the most beneficial types of feed additives for individual customer needs. For consistent performance improvement, essential oils turned out to be a key solution because they impact all four key gut function areas (listed below).

Since 2009, a combined total of 77 comprehensive in vitro and in vivo trials have been conducted at Cargill's Animal Nutrition Innovation Centers in Velddriel, the Netherlands, and Elk River, Minn., as well as at regional facilities in Jordan, France, Poland, India and the U.S., on additives including essential oils, probiotics, yeast derivatives and medium chain fatty acids (MCFA).

Essential oils key in gut health support
Gut health is important in poultry production because the digestive system performs key functions essential to ensuring birds' optimum performance. Cargill seeks to better understand optimal gut function in four key areas:

Managing microflora for a well-balanced bacterial population
Controlling immune function and inflammatory response
Maximizing nutrient digestion and absorption
Improving the physical barrier against pathogens
While all additives studied showed some benefit in these areas, Cargill researchers found that selected essential oil compounds, particularly those derived from thyme, cinnamon and oregano, had the most comprehensive effect on overall gut health. Benefits included:

Antimicrobial activity
Modulation of immune response
Antioxidant activity
Improvement of nutrient digestibility
Stimulation of mucus production
"Only essential oils have both a broad spectrum of activity against pathogens and a direct impact on digestive function," said Stephanie Ladirat, global technology lead for gut health additives in Cargill's animal nutrition business.

Essential oils role in antibiotic reduction
In addition, essential oils were found to be particular efficient in conditions where intestinal infections such as Salmonellosis and Coccidiosis were present. They were also found to be a viable alternative to antibiotics as more than 85 percent of the results showed a minimal difference between the positive control (antibiotics) and essential oils.

The research also showed that essential oils are just one facet of a feeding program that promotes ideal gut health and allows antibiotic reduction. Research findings support combining essential oils with organic acids to get maximum efficacy. "Cargill's local nutrition experts are working directly with poultry producers to develop customized, holistic feeding programs encompassing nutrition, additives and farm management based on the study results," says Twan Van Gerwe, poultry R&D director in Cargill's animal nutrition business. Combined study results from 12 trials demonstrated that birds given Cargill's PROMOTE® Biacid™ Nucleus additive, which contains a proprietary mixture of seven carefully selected essential oil compounds, in combination with an antibiotic-free diet, consistently improves body weight gain by 2 percent and feed conversion by 1.5 percent, producing a return on investment (ROI) of 5:1 for producers.

Long-term benefits of healthy digestion in poultry
For poultry producers the high return on investment is a top benefit of intestinal health support. However, promoting gut health also helps address issues in food safety and animal welfare.  Healthy poultry intestines may result in a lower risk of bacterial food contamination and in healthier barn environments.

Finally, feed efficiency has become increasingly important due to the growing world population and limitations in feed resources. Supporting gut heath contributes to efforts to meet increasing demand for global animal protein in an efficient way. "Promoting gut health while reducing AGPs is critical for sustainable animal performance and profitability," adds Van Gerwe. "Our R&D work in improving poultry gut health is an important part of Cargill's commitment to nourishing the world's population."