Expert Talks About Natural Supplements for Bird Medication

4/13/2013 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

LANCASTER, Pa. — Growers raising antibiotic-free or organic birds have few options available when a disease outbreak occurs on the farm.

And while taking good preventative steps might ultimately be the best weapon for avoiding a problem, there is a laundry list of natural compounds that could help as well, according to Jonathan Moyle, poultry Extension specialist with the University of Maryland.

Speaking at the monthly poultry health seminar Monday at the Eden Resort Inn in Lancaster, Moyle went through a list of natural compounds that poultry growers could use to prevent diseases such as campylobacter, E. coli and salmonella.

When it comes to overall immune health, probiotics, defined as cultures of one or more living organisms often added to feed, can be effective at maintaining good gastrointestinal health, which Moyle said is important considering 70 percent of the immune system is associated with what goes on in the digestive system.

“We need these bacteria. They’re helpful for us. We need them there to help us,” he said.

Meanwhile, bacteriophages, also known as phages, are viruses that infect and replicate within bacteria and are host specific.

Moyle said bacteriophages have been looked at as a possible solution to microbial antibiotic resistance, but they provide little if any residual protection for birds.

“We need to find a way to make this work a little better in our systems,” he said.

Putting some apple cider vinegar in water, Moyle said, can reduce the risk of campylobacter, E. coli and salmonella. The organic acid can also help clean waterlines.

Some plant-derived essential oils, such as cinnamon, clove and mint, can work to prevent disease, too.

Adding an infusion of wild mint to drinking water, he said, can lead to better overall bird performance, especially in summer.

But Moyle warned that using cinnamon oil can affect growth rates in birds.

Even adding a little oregano to feed can inhibit the development of E. coli, but not everyone likes the test of oregano in their chicken.

“So we got these different products out there,” Moyle said. “But again, the thing you need to watch for once we get them in these products, you need to do a sensory test.

“That’s something that’s really lacking out there if we start feeding something and getting a flavor in. It may not be worth it if our consumer doesn’t want it,” he said.

Some of the compounds Moyle pointed to as beneficial have little, if any, scientific data to back them up. But he said producers shouldn’t be afraid to at least try something, as long as the information is taken with a grain of salt.

“If you’re listening to a salesman that’s telling you something that’s too good to be true, it probably is, but there may be some truth to it,” he said.

Greg Martin, poultry educator with Penn State Extension, said many producers, especially organic ones who are limited to what sorts of medicines they can use to treat their birds, have turned to these natural medications as an alternative.

“The essential oils have been used quite frequently for health and insecticide properties. Most of these compounds are health-based compounds to help promote health in the birds,” Martin said.

Still, Moyle said the best disease prevention starts with biosecurity and commonsense cleanliness.

One farm he went to advertised itself as having great biosecurity protocols, until he saw the dry footbath with at least a few inches of mud in it.

“What does that tell me. It tells me — one, they’re not keeping it clean. Two, they’re not even worried about it because it’s dry,” he said.

“I’ve been on farms where they got all of these foot baths and that, but the owner doesn’t think he needs to do it when he visits his farms,” Moyle said.

“Well, you know what? I don’t care if those are $100 shoes, you step in the foot bath or you don’t go on. You got to set an example for the people that work for you.”

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